Saturday, October 26, 2013

Contaminated by Em Garner

Review based on ARC

I was looking forward to the gritty aftermath... the trouble starting all over again... the zombie book with a new spin.  Aaaaand... maybe the series as a whole will offer that.  But this book itself didn't quite live up to what I was expecting based on the book's description.

In Contaminated, Velvet, the main character, is a 17-yr-old dystopian heroine with missing parents and a somewhat typical 10-year old-sister to talk care of.  The "zombies" are people who drank a diet drink that was poorly made, causing people to become mindless raging ... well, zombies.  And Velvet's mom was one of the "connie's" who will be released back to her family if her family claims her.  Velvet finds her and brings her home.  What follows is a difficult life, discrimination, and challenges that the strong heroine faces with gusto.

I'm cool with the backdrop - I like new spins on old tales.  I liked how I Am Legend spun with science.  LOVE that kind of stuff, actually.  So I was really looking forward to this.

But most of the novel was day-to-day.. memories.. stories.  It wasn't the adrenaline-laced "oh no! it's happening again?!" novel that I was expecting, so much as a narrative of life after all the excitement happened two years ago...  The cover and the title lead the reader to think that this is action, gore, guts, and CONTAMINATED zombie-like humans!  But perhaps "My mom is a Connie" would have been a better title, to give the potential-reader more of a sense that the book is almost more of a lesson-book.  A book on discrimination, on governmental reaction and politics.  A book on family ties and strength of character.  All fine and dandy, but just fell a little flat for me.  It was somewhat interesting and well-written, but not an attention-grabber or a sleep-stealer.

Garner has set this up to be the first in a series.  Like many series, the first book may be more introductory, and the second and others following may have the action that I was expecting in this one.   I hope so..  And, indeed, the end of this book was where it started to really pick up and become intriguing.

So I recommend the book to young adults -- teens.  I liked the strong and fairly realistic protagonist.  I liked the potential that was laid with this book, and I liked the backdrop.  I am definitely curious about the 2nd book, but I may not be there on opening night....

THREE out of five stars.

Substitute Creature (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #4) by Charles Gilman

Review based on ARC.

Yes, best yet.  I know I said that about the last one, but *fortunately* they keep getting better!  I'm ever impressed with Gilman's ability to creep in so few pages.  This is, as with the others in the series, a book aimed at a 7/8-12 year old audience.  And definitely kids with a stronger stomach and a penchant for the creepy.

This one is creepiest yet.  Robert and Glenn continue their adventures with the Tillinghast mansion and the Lovecraft middle school which they both attend.  They find a new portal to the mansion that... lands them in a difficult situation.  Caught by the janitor after their near escape, Robert and Glenn find themselves making up stories to avoid having to explain the truth, which adults clearly never believe in these stories.  The janitor, however, tells Robert he will tell his mother (now the nurse at the school), and Robert sees problems on the horizon.  Before Maniac Mac has a chance to tell Robert's mother, however, there is declared a weather emergency as a blizzard finds itself centered over Lovecraft and the school is sent home.

Robert and his mother are, of course, last to leave since she is seeing to the well-being of the kids, and they ultimately find themselves caught in a place they'd rather not be, joined by Karina, Miss Carcasse (heh heh) the substitute librarian, Maniac Mac, and other creatures from ... other places.

And that is saying enough!  The story is creepy enough, Miss Carcasse is creepy enough, and we meet an individual who has heretofore been only discussed in the 3rd person!  I like that Gilman continues his overall plot with each book.

My only complaint is really that the book is REALLY aimed at a younger audience.  It's a simple book with a simple plot and simple prose.  Although the story is something that could be made into a young adult or adult novel with some real bite, Gilman is writing for the younger audience.  Yeah, that's not really a criticism of the book, just a complaint in my favor. ;)

I have sent, given, and recommended this book to many kids in my life.
FOUR AND A HALF out of five stars.

Anarchy by James Treadwell

Review based on ARC

((bounced excitedly in her seat))

I IMpatiently awaited the arrival of Treadwell's second novel, Anarchy.  I mean.  Impatiently.  I regularly google searched and scoured websites looking for a hidden contest to get an early copy.  And my efforts were rewarded!  Thank you NetGalley!

I have often thought about Advent since I finished reading it and reviewed it.  It was a chance finding... a book I picked up from the library on a whim.  And I loved it.  And I gave it 4 stars and I've often wondered if... perhaps I shouldn't have rated it higher?  Any book that makes me think so much about it.... but I haven't changed that review because, well, because I believe the review that lands on my review is the best review from me - contemporaneous and not hindsight-affected.

Nevertheless, I looked for Anarchy with eagerness.  And it did not disappoint.  Treadwell just writes a beautiful story - it feels like actual literature - but then there's the fantastical element.  This is where we broach my actual favorite genre... magical realism.  (well, okay, it's tied with gothic literature).  And Treadwell does it well.

Here is an author who does the interweaving of three stories - a type of story-telling that seems to be heavily used of late.  But he did it well.  He does it all well.  He sets up a story that is foggy and etherial and forces its reader to be patient... and forces its reader to slow down and enjoy it.

And I did.  I'm just not going to say more about the actual plot and goings on.  I will say, read Advent first.  If you HATE advent, I highly doubt you'll like Anarchy.  If you HATE magical realism and fantasy, just don't try it.  But if you're willing to give it a shot, these are the books that deserve your efforts.

FOUR AND A HALF of five stars

The Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble

Review based on ARC.

Perhaps my expectations have risen too high.  Or perhaps this is just another book that... had so much potential but just did not meet it.

As you'll read in every other blurb or review, Jess is an anthropology student with a bright career ahead of her.  She has an affair with her married professor and "finds herself" pregnant... er, I mean, she got pregnant.  Although that's not an altogether surprising result of having an affair with a member of the opposite gender.... I'll at least give them that this was in the 60s.. in London.  So, okay, she finds herself a single mom and .. I guess it makes sense to become a free-lance writer to keep her kid fed rather than continue on an anthropology career.  Sorry, I'm just a bit confused because I know actual free-lance writers and on the whole their money situation is neither good nor steady.  But they do it because they love the writing and there's potential for the future.  Conversely, staying in a career-oriented educational program seems like a smart decision.  I have friends who went to law school w/ little babies and kids (and, yes, no dads). and sure it's hard but.... anyway, I digress.

Jess' baby Anna is the pure gold baby.  Sunny, happy, and developmentally delayed.  And so dubbed the Pure Gold Baby.  The book spans 50 years, to the present, and we get to watch as Jess and Anna struggle (well, Jess struggles...) with every day life -- jobs, friends, men.  So yeah, it's one of those kind of books that just goes on, without a plot per se -- no real climax -- just character development and ongoing life.

And as I've said before, in order for those books to really impress me, they have to ... well... really impress me.  They have to be really well done (e.g., Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart).  And Drabble's was fine, it was good, the writing was good, but it wasn't great.  So it got kind of boring... and kind of directionless.  And while I did keep reading and I was glad to have read it... and I thought that Drabble added some interesting perspectives and history about women's libbing... it didn't blow me away.

I'll agree with some of the other reviewers that perhaps the narration from Jess's friend was just a bit too detached.  She was privy to more, er, inside-knowledge than you might expect (thoughts and emotions) for a non-omniscient 3rd person perspective, but it was still just a little too cold, unemotional, and.. well, detached, for my tastes.

So overall, a good book.  If you're looking for something that has some history, some women's strength undertones, some discussion on developmentally disabled ... pick it up.  But it's not a blow-me-away book.

THREE AND A HALF of 5 stars..