Book Review: The Goddess Test, by Aimee Carter

April 10, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Kate Winters doesn’t want to spend her eighteenth birthday driving to a tiny Michigan town so her mother can die where she grew up. She doesn’t want to go back to high school and leave her mother in the care of a stranger during the day. And she doesn’t particularly want to make friends. Somehow, though, she ends up doing all of it, mostly because it’s what her mother wants. Her mother is dying. Has been dying. She’s held on for four years, longer than anyone thought she could, but now she truly is dying.
But then, Kate meets Henry, a young man from the strange estate on the edge of town, and he offers her the one thing no one has even been able to guarantee: a chance to say goodbye. The promise that before her mother dies, she’ll be able to say goodbye. Henry and the manor are neither what they seem to be, and what happens over the long autumn and winter will not just change the rest of Kate’s life: they’ll change the rest of forever.

I’m a sucker for Greek mythology. I always have been, probably always will be, and I jump on just about any new addition on it, so when I saw mentions of Hades and Persephone, I was bouncing up and down with excitement, couldn’t wait for it to come out.

Now having read it… I don’t in any way mean to imply that I didn’t enjoy it, because I did, but I wonder if I didn’t get myself so worked up over it that it couldn’t ever do less than let me down a little. The myth of Hades and Persephone is, I think, one of the most intriguing of the classical stories, and open to such an array of interpretations. Their story here is intriguing, and sad- no, not just sad, profoundly depressing because it carries such a weight across so many centuries. Henry is such a complicated character, and yet he’s perhaps the most straightforward, the easiest to understand, and the one whose motivations are the more clear. His loyalty is staggering, as painful as it is commendable, and his hope is so fragile, so ephemeral, that each time we see it we want to somehow shelter it, as if there was any way we could. His grief is a living thing, a weight that hovers in the halls of the manor and shades every word. Sometimes the grief edges into rage, sometimes into despair, but even when he seems his most relaxed the grief is still a ghost at his shoulders, which is just so lovely.

Eden Manor, not just the beauty of it but the fact of it reminds me of so many things I can’t say without fear of spoilers. The way it exists is a beautiful thing in and of itself, even separated from the story and the things that take place there. Setting so rarely gets to come alive and become a character in its own right, but the manor does just that. It is as essential as any person we meet, perhaps even more so than some, and that’s a rare thing.

I love how consumed Kate is by her mother’s illness, how it overwrites every thought, every action, every moment until she’s just an extension of her mother’s cancer. It’s a very real thing, especially in a terminal sickness that holds on for so long. It isn’t just the patient that’s consumed by it, but those closest to them as well. Kate’s entire life, her whole world, is narrowed down to the single point of light that is her mother. She has no life outside of that, and I really liked that we get to see that. My mother is a nurse, and has been for some years a Hospice nurse, so seeing the truth of that reality- a reality of exhaustion and vomit and weakness- is amazing, and very brave. It takes a hell of a lot of strength to work day by day at someone’s bedside, terrified each moment will be the last and unsure if it’s hope or selfishness to believe they’ll make it another day, another week, another birthday, another Christmas, any milestone that can be clutched against the fear and the pain. It takes a very different kind of strength, and perhaps a more difficult one, to know when to let that go. To recognize the moment when you have to take your own life back, and find the courage to figure out what that life even is anymore. To see that in Kate was extremely compelling, and that more than anything else is what kept me turning page after page.

There was a lot in this book to love, but there was also a lot that left me wondering if I’d somehow missed several very important things along the way. Kate’s friendship with Ava is baffling on nearly every level. I don’t want to give twists away, but Ava’s constant selfishness and unthinking cruelty make her an odd choice of companion and friend. To cling to the familiar- even if it’s not the person you would have chosen- is natural, but it feels forced, like Ava is only ever an albatross at Kate’s neck. She serves a purpose- she serves several purposes, as a matter of fact- but she also serves to muddy things. Given what Kate has gone through in the past four years, given the person she has become as a result of that, it doesn’t work for me that she would even tolerate Ava at some points.

To mention the tests doesn’t give much away- they’re in the title, after all- but the nature of them was a little disconcerting. Jarring, I suppose, would be the best word for it. Kate is told upfront that there will be tests, that she may or may not know them before/during/after, but that she must pass all of them. She worries about them constantly, frets at them, and yet doesn’t recognize most of them. It leaves me with endless tension and no pay-off. As the narrator, she’s limited by her own knowledge, but I would have wished to see indications of the tests in those around her, those who do know what the tests are and how they’re played out. We get a lot of worrying and a lot of time passing, but we don’t really get to use those tests as intervals, or more importantly, as steps. The nature of the tests also startled me; it seemed strangely out of place, like we were somehow being asked to blend two very different mythologies.

And here’s where I start dancing around things in the attempt to be honest without spoiling things. The ending was…I’m not really sure what the ending was. I was expecting both more and less, each in different ways, so it left me very confused about the direction the next book will go. Generally speaking, each book in a series leads to the next one. Obviously there are exceptions, especially an ongoing series that will end up with fifteen, twenty, twenty-six books in it, but even where the first books don’t end in cliffhangers, there’s something to pull you directly to the next one.

And then promptly make you spend the next six to twelve months swearing like a sailor because you have to wait.

I didn’t have that here. I’ll definitely read the next one, because despite everything that bothered me I really did enjoy it, but it’s not what I’ll be jumping up and down for, it’s not the one that I’ll be arguing over with other people trying to guess what happens, because I have absolutely no idea. There is nothing to indicate what’s going to drive the second book, and that, more than anything else I think, is what bothers me. As much as I hate the waiting, there’s pleasure in it too, having that sense of anticipation so that the relief of FINALLY having the book in your hands is as much a joy as the reading of it. I want that from my books.

All things said and done, this book is an intriguing view of Hades and Persephone, and some of the characters are so real- and compelling- that I look forward to coming back to them. Are that pieces that bother me? Yes, absolutely. But not enough that I don’t want to continue reading the series. I’m still caught- the frustration of not being able to wonder where it’s going is only so sharp because I want to know.

The Goddess Test, by Aimee Carter, available April 19th, 2011.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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Do You iWrite?

April 8, 2011 at 9:00 am (Writing) (, , , )

I may have mentioned this before, but I live my life to a soundtrack. I do everything to music, or at least to some sort of background noise. Even sleep- I actually cannot sleep if I don’t have music playing, no matter how tired I am. So, when I sat down and started seriously writing, rather than writing during classes as a way to avoid listening to the teachers, I wasn’t all that surprised that I needed music to keep me focused.

I have ADD, and it manifests in such a way that I am actually incapable of doing only one thing. I HAVE to multi-task. Listening to music occupies enough of my brain that the larger part can focus on whatever’s in front of me. I know it sounds crazy, but that is the twisted way my brain works. If I try to work on just one thing, everything splinters and scatters and I end up not being able to focus on anything to such an extent that when I do add the background sound, my concentration is still shot. I get entire days like that sometimes where I can’t focus on anything to save my life- those days suck.

The thing is, if you troll through author blogs, you’ll find a lot of them mention music. Some will actually create book specific playlists and talk about how each song affected the writing. As part of her countdown to the release of Invincible Summer, Hannah Moskowitz is posting a new song each day, and tells very specifically how the song figured into the writing. Stephenie Meyer put up her playlists on her website, and I know others do as well.

What’s interesting to me- and the reason I’m writing this particular post- is that it seems like each writer uses their soundtracks a different way. The process of writing fascinates me, especially in how it differs from person to person, and the more I read on the soundtracks, the more I wondered about them.

Some authors use them as character guides. Each character has a theme song or sorts, a song that reflects their personality and outlook, maybe even their station in life or their dreams and where they want to be. They find songs that reflect certain relationships or pairings. A relationship that uses “Color of the Night” for example is going to be very, very different than a relationship that defines itself with “My Funny Valentine” or “Because You Loved Me”. Light, fluffy characters are most likely not going to use soul-searching power ballads, and your bad boy should probably not listen to Rebecca Black- unless it’s to make fun of her. The songs can define the characters the same way they define people in real life, like a certain song will make you think of your prom date, or your mother, or your best friend. You may be the only person in the world who makes the connection between the character and the song, but for you, there’s something about the two that just goes together. When all your theme songs are together, suddenly you have a full cast, and you can switch between the songs as you need to in order to better understand the characters.

Some authors use them as story maps. Each song represents a different part of the story and they go in order. The song may reflect the characters at that moment, or the action, or it could be the pace of the song that sets the mood. The order is important for this style; if you change the order of the songs, you actually change the order of the story. Think of it as a Broadway musical: when listening to the CD, you don’t have to have the actors sitting in front of you doing the actions. You KNOW what’s going on- because they’re telling you. The songs actually tell the story, like their own outline.

Then there’s the playlist that acts as a movie soundtrack. There may be recurring themes that pop up, a character may have a song, but a moment might as well. This one I like to think of as a Doctor Who episode. Yes, I’m that kind of geek, and proud of it. If you pay attention to the music, though, you can hear the individual themes that both define and accentuate what’s going on. When you hear the Doctor’s theme, or Rose’s theme, shivers go down your spine. You get the build-up for the tense moment of revelation, you get the slightly bittersweet resolutions, you get the heart-breaking moments, and then- my favorite part- THE RUNNING. Oh, the running. When you hear that music, you know what’s going on. If you know your story in advance well enough to map it out that way, creating the visual soundtrack.

I don’t do any of these.

I play my music because it satisfies the indemnity of the ADD. I pick my writing playlists because of my ability to zone them out. They’re lists I absolutely love and listen to all the time, so familiar that they don’t jar me out of my concentration, but my foot still taps to the beat (as the folks at Chick-fil-A like to tell me). A lot of my list is Celtic/Folk stuff: Scythian, The Town Pants, Ceann, Tartan Terrors…(are you scared of me yet?). Most of the time, I’ll take a break from the writing to gather thoughts and stretch my hands, and I’m stunned by how many songs have gone by. Every now and then I’ll switch things up and play a Cirque de Soleil soundtrack.

I’ve found that there are things I love that I can’t write to. I can’t write to Glee- I want to sing along too badly. Not a good idea considering I write in a public place and I’m trying to be productive. As much as I love classical music, I tend to zone out a little too much; I zone right past the music AND past the words I’m trying to write. With some specific song exceptions, I can’t even listen to Doctor Who; I know the episodes too well. I can actually see what’s going on when the music switches, which doesn’t lend well to writing my own stuff. I can go through every single playlist and know whether or not I can write to it.

But, of course, even with me, there are exceptions.

On one of my earlier projects, I had a song stuck in my head. Could not for the life of me get it out. So I finally gave in to the inevitable and put it on repeat while I was writing that day. The scene that emerged from that day stunned me. I wasn’t expecting it, but it was gorgeous and bittersweet and a little bit haunting. Just like the song. It worked in such a good way for the characters in that scene, who were at a point where something needed to shift but I wasn’t sure what needed to happen precisely. I couldn’t recreate that inspiration if I tried, but I’m glad I gave in to the impulse that day.

And then there’s this new project. All through the planning, and through the first three chapters, I’ve only been able to play one CD. Everything else, with a couple of single song exceptions that take way too much effort to sort through and find, it’s just this one CD. And I’m okay with that. What it’s adding to the story is a little creepy, a little haunting, a little menacing, and a little sad. Exactly what I’m going for. It’s very different from what I’m used to, but as long as it’s working, I’m going to keep going with it.

So what do you do? Do you write to a soundtrack? Does it help? What do you like to write to? Inquiring minds (mainly mine) want to know!

Until next time~
Cheers

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Book Review: Paranormalcy, by Kiersten White

April 6, 2011 at 9:00 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , )

Raised by the International Paranormal Containment Agency, IPCA, Evie hasn’t exactly had a normal life. Her ability to see through glamours to the paranormal beneath makes her an asset beyond value in the effort to tag and contain paranormals all over the world. Her best friend is a mermaid, her creepy stalker ex is a faery, and her main tutor is a werewolf. Her only parameters for normal are what she sees on the high school television dramas. Then she meets Lend, a shapeshifter roughly her own age, and despite the unprecedented threat of paranormals dropping dead all over the world, she starts to feel almost…normal.
Until she finds out that whatever’s killing the paranormals is coming after her.

I’m nearly allergic to pink, and Evie has a serious thing for it. Like a pink rhinestone-studded taser named Tasey and refusing to carry a knife until it has a pink handle thing for pink. There’s something horribly funny about all these people getting arrested by a sixteen year old with a pink fetish.

Once I could get over the sheer amount of pink, though, I fell in love with Evie, who wants more than anything to attend a normal human high school. Her fascination with things as simple as diners, malls, or even drivers’ licenses is a little heart-breaking, yet she does love pieces of her current life. I love her relationship with her best friend Lish, a mermaid who lives in an enormous aquarium in the Center; especially love the fact that Lish’s robotic voice won’t translate curse words. Sometimes when she talks it’s like a tv censor with epilepsy, absolutely hysterical. It also lets Evie have a habit of saying “bleep” when she curses. It’s cute, we still know she’s swearing, and parents don’t have to worry about their teenagers learning any new words.

Reth is so creepy in so many ways, and (at the risk of raising hackles) I am so bleep grateful for a heroine who does not find the stalking at all sexy. Everyone loves a bad boy, but when we have to pull out restraining orders and pamphlets on emotional abuse, enough is enough. Evie’s good sense in recognizing- and discouraging- these behaviors made me love her forever, in spite of the pink. Reth’s behavior is integral to the story, and it’s certainly real, but it was a relief to see a girl who isn’t swept away by the “romance” of it.

The relationship that builds with Lend is slowly and beautifully drawn. Evie’s anxieties are compounded by complete lack of anythng to compare them to, and it’s great to see her insecurities waffle between “he likes me!”, “he doesn’t like me”, “he’s going to kiss me!”, “he’s not going to kiss me”. It’s absolutely hysterical, but SO true to life. For Lend, whose natural appearance is rather like water, Evie’s acceptance of him no matter what face he wears (except when he wears hers) is important, and most likely very new.

Dancing around spoilers here, but there was one character that I did not expect to feel such sympathy for. That my heart broke several times for this person was beyond words. As silly as Evie can be (and often is), and as ignorant as she’s been kept on some very important things, she’s not afraid to looks at the hard questions.

Paranormalcy is the first of three, with Supernaturally expected out end of July in hardback and e-book. Paranormalcy is available in both of these formats, and will be out in paperback at the end of August. Definitely check it out, even if you have a pink allergy, and be swept away by Evie’s boundless energy. Paranormalcy, by Kiersten White.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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A Bit About Jargon: Strict-On-Sale

April 4, 2011 at 12:11 am (Industry) (, , , , , )

It occurred to me a little while ago at work that booksellers and publishers tend to use a lot of jargon, even when we’re talking directly to the customers, and that we don’t always explain what we mean. It can get very confusing and, more importantly, VERY frustrating to hear someone throw around terms when you just want to know why the frack you can’t get your book?!?!?! or…you know…something along those lines.

So, to start us off, let’s look at a monumentally frustrating but important piece of bookseller jargon called the Strict-on-Sale, or SOS.

This has to do with a book’s release date. In the computer, on websites, etc there’ll be a date of release. Just for the sake of an example, let’s say April 5th. As odd as this might seem, that date doesn’t necessarily mean much. Sometimes that means the date that it’s expected to hit stores. Sometimes it’s the date it’s expected to hit warehouses. Sometimes it comes early, sometimes it comes late.

Normally, as soon as book comes in through the back door of the book store, we can put it out on the floor. This could mean it’s on the floor on April 1st or April 8th, whenever it comes in. The exception to this in a Strict-On-Sale title.

What that means is that the publisher’s release date is a binding, legal contract between bookstores and publishers that they will not sell any copies of this title before that date. It doesn’t matter when it comes in, if it’s a day before, a week before, or a month before, it cannot be sold until that date. We’re not even allowed to take them out of the boxes- not even allowed to open the boxes unless the titles are mixed across weeks, and then we have to reseal them once the earlier titles are removed.

In cases like this, before the store opens on April 5th, we’ll unseal the boxes, get them sorted into their displays, sticker them with discounts if applicable, and get them set up before we open the doors. The copies that are customer-specific orders go up to the front for the cashiers to call through the morning, and anyone else who wanders in can pick up a copy from the shelf or display. On April 5th.

If we accidentally mix up a box and put it out on, say, April 4th, and we sell a copy, there will be consequences.

Sometimes the consequences can be mild. If it’s a smaller publisher, or if the title is important enough for an SOS but not such a huge push that people are terrified of spoilers, it’s usually just a polite email from the publisher with the reminder that titles are SOS for a reason and can we please take extra care in the future. It’s embarrasing, but it’s not the end of the world.

Sometimes the consequences are a little more severe. If it happens on a more important title, or if it happens in a store with a record of it, the store can be penalized. Future titles may not show up at all, or they may show up late, so that store doesn’t have the advantage of getting the books in customers’ hands right off the bat. It can cause a store to lose business, especially if it keeps happening.

Then there are the REALLY big titles. Your Harry Potters, your Breaking Dawns, your Brisingrs, your titles that are on such strict embargo you literally have to wrap the stack of boxes in plastic until the release. You’re not even allowed to take a picture of the stack of boxes. If one of these titles gets leaked or sold, heads will roll.

Or at the very least someone is getting fired.

This goes back to the binding legal contract. As the retailer, we make a promise to the publisher that no one will have this book in their hands until the specified date. You break a promise to anyone, there are consequences, even if it was purely by accident. The SOS titles are separated out from the rest of the incoming books, they’re marked out, kept in a different area, and only very specific people are allowed to prep them for sale, to minimize the risk of a mistake being made. Mistakes can still happen- mistakes, unfortunately, can always happen- but we do our absolute best to keep them from happening.

So why a Strict-On-Sale date in the first place?

A couple of reasons, really. The normal reason, or at least the more common one, is that there’s high demand for a title and the publishers want to maximize that demand. Part of that is done by making sure everyone knows that they cannot get this book before that date. Most humans are like cats and small children: you tell them they can’t have something yet, they want it now. It actually adds to their impatience- and thus makes them more likely to rush out that first day and get the book. The other piece is that it prevents spoilers. If, in the normal course of things, no one has a book until that same day, you don’t get the unavoidable spoilers, the people who spill the twists or the end and ruin it for anyone else. People who are the unfortunate victims of spoilers have a way of not getting the book because they feel like there’s no point, or they at least wait until they can’t remember the spoiler as much. On a big enough title (like Cassandra Clare’s City of Fallen Angels) there aren’t even any ARCs sent out. (Advance Reading Copies- bound copies, as yet uncorrected, sent out to some reviewers, authors, and booksellers to help create a knowledgable audience to help push the book’s release, because nothing handsells so well as someone’s passion for it) Authors and publishers will both take the responsibility to peruse the internet to see if any spoilers are posted, and if they see them, they’ll usually send a polite request to remove the spoilers until sufficient time has passed for others to have a chance.

If you haven’t finished out the Harry Potter series, you might want to skip this paragraph, but for the rest of us: when I was walking out at one o’clock in the morning with the sixth book freshly unpacked from the box, purchased, and actually in my hands, we had some @$*#! driving around the parking lot bellowing out that Dumbledore dies on page 394. I resisted the urge to look- barely. It helped somewhat that there was another bookstore less than half a block away and we could hear some of their moronic friends in the other parking lot yelling out a different character’s name and page number. I resisted, and I stayed up and read that book as soon as I got home, and when I got to page 394, lo and behold, there was Dumbledore. I was PISSED that someone had actually tried to ruin it for me, and had marginally succeeded. What about all those other people who actually did look?

Spoilers suck, and not just on a personal level; they’re also bad for business. People who have an ending spoiled for them do not suddenly rush out to buy the book they’ve been looking forward to so much.

There are, however, other occasions that might merit an SOS. When Oprah announces her new book club title, you can bet whatever book it is has a Strict-On-Sale. Even if the book has already been released, the editions that have that pretty little sticker on the cover are sitting in boxes in the back room, taped shut, until the show is on and the title announced. Sometimes a title is politically sensitive, or tied to an announcement, or is significant to a particular date. These can all have an impact on whether or not a title has a Strict-On-Sale date.

Usually, SOS dates are on Tuesdays. Tuesdays are big release days for a lot of reasons, only some of which I know (honestly, I don’t know all the reasons, I’m not just being coy). It allows for shipments to arrive that don’t move over the weekends, it boosts mid-week sales, and…okay, those are the only two reasons I know, but those two I am absolutely sure of. * Every now and then, you’ll find a different day. If the publishers expect that booksellers will want to have a midnight release party (again, Harry Potter, Breaking Dawn, etc), they may give it a Saturday release date to let booksellers have a Friday night release party and start selling books at 12:01 Saturday morning. This also lets people who can’t get in during the week, people who work, people who are stuck in school, whatever, get the book that first day as well.

Then there’s James Patterson. He has a Monday SOS for every single title. When you have twelve hardcovers a year, all of them debuting on a bestseller list, you get to have your own SOS day too. That’s…really all there is to say about that.

So here’s where we get to the frustrating part. You’re in a bookstore, asking after a title you have been DYING for, the bookseller looks it up and tells you that the title will be available on Tuesday April 5th. You ask if there’s any chance of it coming in early and-…they hesitate.

We lie in retail. We lie ALL THE TIME. We lie when we tell that pain-in-the-ass customer to have a nice day, we lie when we break our backs trying to find a book and say it’s no trouble, and we REALLY lie when someones asks a STUPID question and all we do is smile politely. And yes, there is such a thing as a stupid question. When I have a landline phone to my ear, a scanner in one hand, a stack of books in the other, a name badge, and a full cart of books, signs, and display stands balanced against my hip, asking me if I work there is a STUPID question. Try “Can you help me?”, it’s a much better way to start the conversation.

But those are tiny lies, retail lies, the kinds of lies that help us keep our jobs and not ruffle feathers. It’s called being polite, or at least being tactful. It’s not the same as looking someone in the face and outright lying. Then we feel like schmucks.

So back to you, who has just asked me if there’s any chance of the book coming in early. I hesitate, because I know very well that the books are sitting in boxes in the back. I also know that if I lie and tell you no, your next question will be a worry that it won’t even come in on time, and I don’t want to lose your business to someone who’s willing to tell you that it could come in early. So I recover and answer “It’ll be available on Tuesday the fifth”. Which, as we both know, isn’t really an answer. You realize that the book is here, I still can’t sell it to you no matter how you might beg, and in the end, the conversation has to finish the same way it began: the book will be available on Tuesday, April 5th.

Frustrating.

But keep in mind: if it’s a soft release date, we’ll flat tell you that it could come in earlier. If we tell you that the book will be available on a very specific date, it’s because there is a Strict-On-Sale mandate by the publisher that says we CANNOT give that book to you yet. Trust me, we’re not withholding it out of some twisted, spiteful sense of glee. We really can’t.

My store has City of Fallen Angels in boxes in back. I can see the numbers on my computer. I can go in back and pet the outside of the boxes (but I don’t, because really, that’s kind of creepy). I am waiting SO IMPATIENTLY for this book. But I can’t open the box, I can’t ogle the cover except on the posters, and I can’t sit down off the clock and start reading. I can’t buy it yet. And I can’t sell it to you yet. It’s not my rule, it is a contract with the publisher. So when I tell you that it has a strict release date, let me reserve a copy for you, we’ll both rush out first thing Tuesday morning, and everyone wins.

Is there any jargon you hear that confuses you? Anything bookstoreish that you want explained? Drop me a question in the comments and I’ll do my best- simple answers will get a comment back, but if it’s more complicated, or if it repeats, we’ll get another jargon post.

Until next time~
Cheers!

* And with new information: Bestseller lists are created on Wednesdays, so it’s the Tuesday to Tuesday sales that are tracked for purposes of making these lists. Thank you, Cassandra Clare!

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Book Review: The Dark and Hollow Places, by Carrie Ryan

April 2, 2011 at 8:58 am (Book Reviews) (, , , , , , )

In The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Mary spends her days in the village under the watchful eye of the Sisterhood while the Unconsecrated press against the fences, desperate to infect the living flesh within. The village is the entire world, but Mary dreams of an ocean, a vast expanse of water where there are no Unconsecrated. When her village is overrun, she and so few others survive to flee deep into the Forest, where they learn that the Sisterhood kept many secrets in the name of order.

InThe Dead-Tossed Waves, Gabry has lived a quiet life in the lighthouse with her mother, too caught by fear to venture beyond the Barrier to the ruins of the amusement park beyond with the others her age- until Catcher asks her to go. An attack leaves half of them dead, half banished, and Gabry crippled with guilt. Truth is a slippery thing that can leave you reeling, but if she’s going to help the boy she loves- or the boy she could love- she’ll have to find strength she never even know existed.

Then came The Dark and Hollow Places, the conclusion of the Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy by Carrie Ryan. Since Elias left, Annah has existed as little more than an Unconsecrated herself, functioning but not living. Then, impossibly, she sees the sister she abandoned so long ago in the Forest, alive and well in the Dark City. The city is just as suddenly overwhelmed with a millions-deep horde of Unconsecrated. Trapped in the Recruiters’ Sanctuary, Annah will finally have to decide if there’s a point to shuffling mindlessly through the days or if she has the courage to truly live in spite of everything.

I am not a zombie person. I don’t like zombie movies, I don’t read zombie graphic novels, so the idea of reading a zombie YA didn’t exactly take me to my happy place. But- we were getting a lot of requests for it, and librarians were wondering if it was okay for the middle and high school libraries, so I finally picked up the paperback and sat down to read the first one.

And promptly fell in love with the world. It took a little while to get over flashbacks from The Village, but I was captivated by how tiny and isolated the village was within the forest of zombies- or Unconsecrated as those within the Sisterhood’s influence call them- and by Mary’s fierce dreams and yearning for the ocean. I was equally appalled by her selfishness. That selfishness and the consequences it creates are a very large part of the book, so it definitely serves a purpose, but it made it very difficult for me to like Mary, which made it difficult for me to want to continue the series.

I’m glad I did. The Dead-Tossed Waves took us in an entirely new direction. Mary was desperate to see the world beyond the Forest; Gabry is just as desperate to cling to the perceived safety of Vista and her mother. While launched by similar tragedies, Gabry’s journey is always tied to other people: to make sure Catcher isn’t alone, to learn more about Elias, to rescue Cira, to find her mother. She isn’t selfish- she’s afraid, and the ways she works through that fear over the course of the book is both compelling and moving.

In some ways, it’s very hard to talk about the third book without giving away huge spoilers for the second, and if you haven’t read this series yet, I don’t want to ruin some of the important reveals. Let’s see, how can I proceed with caution…I love the conflict within Annah, that knife-sharp question of the value, the point, of life in the midst of so much death. Her feelings for her newly re-discovered sister are fractured and scattered, all over the spectrum, and entirely believable. It’s beautifully done. I wish I knew more about the Recruiter Rebellion. It’s mentioned so many times, is significant in so many ways, and yet the actual event in nebulous. Why did they rebel? What happened to the Protectorate? What side was the general populace on- and why? These things feel really important, especially when it comes to understanding a few of the characters and the choices they make, but we’re not given much. Perhaps Annah, as the narrator, doesn’t know, but it still feels like a hole.

Something that is probably both good and bad: the ending doesn’t feel like an ending. Of the book, yes, but not of the series, so seeing this listed as the final book is a little disheartening. On the one hand, I kind of get it: so much of the trilogy is dependant upon the claustrophobic feeling of being penned in, so to suddenly open up the world to that extent would create the opposite feeling of endlessless. Ryan has said that there will be short stories within this world; I fervently hope some of them take place after this conclusion because I desperately want to know.

Eveni f you’re not a zombie fan, do yourself a favor and pick up this series. All three are available in hard cover and e-book, the first two are also available in paperback. The questions raised within the stories are haunting and not easily answered.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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