Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Review: After The Snow by S.D. Crockett

In One Line: Young boy sets out to avenge his father’s kidnap in a future-world ravaged by ice.
Genre: Eco-apocalyptic quest!
The Gist:
Willo lives up a mountain in a part of the world that may possibly be Wales (the first part of the novel is called ‘Snowdonia’, which is a major clue). And dude, is it cold! We’re talking ice age here people. It appears that all the money we are actually currently pumping into wind-farms is absolutely pointless, because wind-farms don’t work in the cold. But those clever folks in the East have built them some nuclear power plants, so they’re all rich, leaving most of the UK in hellish poverty. 
When Willo’s father gets kidnapped (possibly due to the scary Geraint) Willo sets off to get his revenge. But he quickly gets sidelined after rescuing young Mary from a pack of ravenous wolf-dogs. Soon enough Willo and Mary find themselves in he big city, where friendship is a rare commodity. 
The Cover:
This cover looks like a designer version of a crow cave-painting, which is VERY in keeping with the mood of the book. It’s edgy and non-gendered and doesn’t give you much of a clue to the intended age of the reader - I LIKE THIS. Because although the book is narrated by a boy, it’s kind of a genderless read and wouldn’t alienate boys or girls. And it has an ageless quality - I couldn’t quite figure out the age of Willo, but that worked for me. He could be in his late teens, or he could be thirteen, and likewise this cover doesn’t alienate younger or older readers. It’s for everyone. One note though - I wish it was a dog image on the front, not a crow. Not sure why it’s a crow really, especially as dogs are such a potent theme in the book. 
Why You’ll Love This Book
  • Storytelling. Proper old-style traditional storytelling that at times feels like you’re sitting around a fire listening to a grand old sage telling it to you. And this is despite the fact that it’s written in a phonetic style (similar to works by Patrick Ness and Moira Young). What results is instant engagement with the narrator and his world.
  • Eco-disaster. For once we have a post-apocalyptic tale that isn’t caused by aliens or nuclear detonations or something weirdy-science-fictiony. This is a disaster that has actual, plausible science behind it, and the more you investigate the more you discover how frighteningly plausible this story really is. 
  • Internal Dog. Kudos to anyone who manages to write an invisible friend/inner voice that doesn’t make the character seem psychotic. I mean this seriously, because I seriously trusted Internal Dog, and longed for an Internal Dog of my own. I have two Actual Dogs, who are gorgeous fluffy creatures but alas, they don’t give me advice. And they’re Bichon Frises, so I have a feeling that instead of keeping me alive on a mountaintop, they’d give me advice on how to best make my hair look fluffy. 

These are my gorgeous doggies, Sandy and Beau. They know nothing about survival, but they sure know how to look good. 

Why You May Not Love This Book:
  • Just one thing really grated on me reading this, and I don’t even think it’s that big of a deal. It certainly didn’t stop me enjoying the book. Basically, it’s that Willo doesn’t DO much. Things happen to him and he goes with the flow. And especially in the latter half of the novel, it’s like he has absolutely no control over his actions at all. I can understand why this is, as Willo is stuck in a big city with no friends and no hope, so he is relying on the kindness of strangers, but where is the kid with all the anger and desperation we in the earlier pages? Most notably, it is during these latter pages that Willo’s Internal Dog is absent. I think what I’m trying to say is that I want more Internal Dog!!!
  • Quest Narrative. I’m usually not a fan of quest narrative stories, because I tend to find they can drag on and on and on and it sucks because you know that they aren’t going to get to the end of the quest until the final pages, which is often 600 pages away (this is why I HATE Lord of the Rings with a passion. And the ancient Greeks.). But I did like this book, a lot. So I suppose I’m trying to say that if you’re looking for a good romance/thriller with a jaunty sub-plot, this isn’t the book for you. But you should probably read it anyway because it’s stunning. 
  • Pessimism. Woah those city-dwellers are mean! Especially the young ones. And I know that they are all poor and hungry and cold and if the Summer riots showed us anything it’s that gang culture is a horrible and dangerous thing, but still, seeing such ghastly young people made me sad. 
  • Coincidences. There’s just a tad too many for my liking. 

The Hypersomnia Test:
Oh, it didn’t pass, but not much is passing the hypersomnia test at the moment. I’ve gone part time at work so that I can focus on my own writing, and somehow my brain has figured out that it can therefore sleep A LOT more. I wanted this book to pass though, I really did. I have a stupid brain. 
Final Verdict:
I felt like I was reading a classic. Like The Giver or A Wrinkle in Time. There is something timeless about this book that makes it a joy to read. I almost wish it wasn’t coming out at a time in teen publishing when there is such a gamut of post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels because I fear it may get lost. There is something slightly ‘uncool’ about this book that makes it shine. I want it to be one of those word-of-mouth cult hits that gets proclaimed a ‘modern classic’ in twenty years time and gets a shiny silver cover to commemorate this. 
Further Reading:
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
To buy After the Snow click HERE!!!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Review: The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker

In One Line: Girl emerges from protective bunker and finds her world ravaged by mutant zombie creatures - but it’s ok because there’s a hot boy to save the day!
Genre: Post-apocalyptic zombie-horror lite. 
The Gist:
Sherry is trapped in a bunker with her family and she has been in there for a LONG time. Outside a horrible virus and bombs have ravaged her world, and when food runs out in the bunker, Sherry and her Dad venture outside to see what’s going on. And it’s really not good. Dad instantly gets captured, but then a hot boy arrives and saves Sherry from being eaten alive. What follows is a desperate attempt to rescue Sherry’s dad and figure out why the hell nobody has come to rescue all the survivors out there. 
The Cover:
From a distance the cover looks quite sweet - bold letters, swirly shapes and butterflies! But get closer and you realise that the swirls are really barbed wire, and the butterfly is really bloody and fearesome! Good work designers. It’s the perfect ‘draw-them-in-then-freak-them-out’ cover. 
Why You’ll Love This Book
  • Weepers! These are genuinely quite disgusting and scary. Those infected by the virus become these foul, hairy beasts who weep milky tears. A properly fearsome detail! 
  • Family values. This is a family who survives TOGETHER. After so many books where the teens have to cope on their own, sometimes it’s comforting to know that Sherry isn’t completely alone. 
  • Josh - he’s tortured and heroic and used to being alone, ok? But we all know that he’s gorgeous and that Sherry is perfect for him. 
  • There is some beautiful writing going on in this book, and descriptions of a ruined LA were particularly stunning. I can also reveal that Winnacker has written this book in English despite her first language being German. Knowing this makes some elements of the writing particularly impressive. 

Why You May Not Love This Book:
  • The science isn’t necessarily all there - sometimes you feel you are missing crucial details. Survival techniques, medical info and the such like. It’s not a huge deal, but every now and again I found myself wanting more depth, and the lack of scientific detail just stopped me engaging in places.
  • I couldn’t help but feel that the book could have gone further and darker. This is probably because I’m a big YA reader and I’m used to things being a lot more intense. 
  • The chapter interludes. Inbetween each chapter is a little snippet of life before the catastrophe, and while these are cute and showcase Winnacker’s great writing talent, I was hoping that they’d end up more necessary to the overall plot. They aren’t. But they are pretty. 
  • Big plot problem - why does Josh instantly presume that Sherry’s dad is alive and being held captive? Why do they go and risk their lives to rescue him? My instinct told me that if you’re captured by mutant cannibal creatures then you’re probably dead already. 
  • If you know your post-apocalyptic zombie fiction and have read a lot of it, then there’s nothing new for you here. 

The Hypersomnia Test:
Passed! I stayed awake! I think this is because this book is a very speedy romp - the pace is so fast that you’re completely swept away with it, desperate to know what twist comes next. 
Final Verdict:
I think anyone who is used to the gritty darkness of older zombie books will be disappointed with this - but it doesn’t claim to be bold YA writing. If anything, this is the perfect book for younger readers desperate to read something older but not yet ready for the tough stuff. It reads younger, it avoids controversy, but has it’s moments of thrill and fear. Also the perfect read if you are new to post-apocalyptic zombie fare - this is the kind of book that works as a perfect gateway to the genre. 
Further Reading:
Ashes by Ilsa J. Bick
Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts
Undead by Kirsty McKay
To buy The Other Life click right HERE!!!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Review: Heaven by Christoph Marzi

In One Line: It’s beautiful, it’s magical, please just read it. 
Genre: Urban Fairytale
The Gist:
This is going to be one of those weird reviews where I try to tell you absolutely nothing about the book. This is because I want you to discover it for yourself. I was captivated by the first few lines alone, so here’s an excerpt:
"The night that Heaven lost her heart was cold and moonless. But the blade that sliced out the girl’s heart was warm with her dark blood. Forlorn, bewildered and throbbing fearfully, the heart was mirrored in the curved, silvery blade. Fingers encased in gloves made of shiny black leather held the heart up before a face that wore an expression of the utmost satisfaction."
But Heaven is still alive, and to the surprise of her murderer, gets up from the bloody scene and runs away. 
That’s all I’m going to give you. Pick up this book, get lost in the prologue, and let yourself be taken away on an adventure above London’s rooftops under a not-so-starry night sky. 
The Cover:
Oh... this cover makes my heart break, and it is so right. It’s a cover that lets the words do the talking and is equal parts totally romantic and totally sinister. I particularly love the fact that the cover doesn’t give anything away. 
Why You’ll Love This Book
  • Starlight, magic, beauty and wonder.
  • If you’re a Londoner, you’ll never look at the night sky in the same way again.
  • This book is a complete escape from the real world - get lost and enjoy.
  • Highgate Cemetery - I want to go and explore NOW. Who’s with me?
  • A thrilling climax aboard the London Eye. 

Why You May Not Love This Book:
  • Sometimes the language gets brutally real, and the few times this happened I got a shock! This is a fairytale, but the real world creeps into it in weird places.
  • It’s a translation - the original was written in German. Sometimes you don’t know if the stilted style is meant to be, or is a result of the translator not finding the right phrasing. 
  • This book isn’t for everybody - I can imagine some simply just not ‘getting it’. I feel sorry for those people.
  • There are lots of inter-textual references, particularly to the worlds of cinema and Dickens. I would preferred Marzi to try and express himself originally, instead of relying on so many similes.

The Hypersomnia Test:
Passed with flying colours! This book was like reading a dream, I just couldn’t put it down.
Final Verdict:
This book left me intoxicated, and has resulted in me seeing my hometown, London, in an entirely different way. I just can’t rave about this book enough. I know I’ve hardly told you anything about it, but I want you to approach it without any expectations of the plot. Just lose yourself in it and go with the flow. If you believe in magic and strangers and starshine, just read it. 
Further Reading:
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Un Lun Dun by China Mievelle
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
To buy Heaven click HERE!!!