The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

Happy New Year!

Okay, now on to book review business.

The set-up: This is less a sequel and more a companion novel to Ryan’s first book, The Forest of Hands and Teeth (which I reviewed here). The story takes place many years in the future (it is post-apocalyptic, after all) in a society haunted by Mudo, aka ZOMBIES. (Sorry, I was excited. All-caps necessary on that one.) This novel follows Gabrielle, the daughter of the main character from The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

Main character’s goals: Gabrielle (Gabry) doesn’t have one goal throughout the story; her goal changes as story events give her different options. If I listed her main goals, I’d be giving away some major story points. So I won’t. But the annoying thing about this book was Gabry’s desire: she wanted everything to go back to how it was before she and her friends made this horrible mistake.

My reaction, and more on Gabry’s regret/desire: Now, I understand where Gabry’s coming from on this desire to go back in time and change things.  But she repeated some form of this desire many, many times throughout the story. Even at the end. Ugh. It does suit Gabry’s personality exactly, even though it got a little old.

Of interest to writers: I freakin’ LOVE Carrie Ryan’s style. It kept me going even when I was annoyed with Gabry. Kick-ass zombie fights and lyrical prose work really well together. But I already raved about Ryan’s writing style in my other review.

Other items of interest: how Gabry’s main goal adapts to story circumstances (I’ve never tried that before), and how some unfinished business from The Forest of Hands and Teeth is resolved. Ironically, some business from this story is left unfinished, paving the way for another book in the story.

Bottom Line: I won’t lie and say The Dead-Tossed Waves is as good as Ryan’s first. It’s not. But if you can get through Gabry’s occasional whining, it’s still a good story.

A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler

Set-up: Aura’s an artist, and artistic talent runs in her family. When her mom’s schizophrenic episodes start to peak and Aura is alone in caring for her, Aura begins to worry that schizophrenia runs in her family too. Believing art and mental illness to be linked, she starts to alienate herself from the one escape she has: her art.

Main character’s goals: Aura’s goals are quite different from your average teen’s: keep mom alive, contain mom, prevent mom from burning the house down. Her approach to these goals changes throughout the story.

My reaction: Ah. Big sigh of happiness. I’m really digging my sabbatical from series books, because the finished endings in my latest reads are so satisfying. The ending in A Blue So Dark was absolutely perfect. I wouldn’t have changed a word.

Of interest to writers: Literary fiction does not have to be slow or boring! The beauty of this novel is that although the prose is poetic and there are no werewolves ripping people to shreds, the tension is high throughout the book. Also, the epigrams at the beginning of each chapter were often quietly hilarious.

Bottom line: I don’t know how much attention this book has gotten (it was another random library shelf pull), but it deserves to be read. Spread the word!

Compromised by Heidi Ayarbe

Set-up: Everything Maya holds dear – her house, her belongings, her designer clothes, and her con-artist dad – are taken away when her dad’s crimes finally catch up with him. Maya is sent to Kids Place, an institution where children and teens wait for foster parents to take them in.

Main character’s goals: This is pretty straightforward. Find long-lost aunt. While this is a great goal in and of itself, the stakes are raised when a creep-nasty couple of foster parents plan to take Maya in. The couple is outwardly religious, but the man seems to only worship one thing: teenage girls. If that isn’t shudder-inducing enough, add the complex power struggles among the other children and teens in Kids Place.

My reaction: You know I hate stories that make me cry, and this one did. Grr. But it also had a very satisfying ending, and not in a sunshiny, “girl gets boy and lives happily ever after” sort of way. I mean, I love Disney fairy tale endings, I really do. But this felt real, and plausible, and even better.

Of interest to writers: Maya’s got a scientific and, actually, a very paranoid way of looking at the world. For every decision she makes, she creates a scientific-procedure to go with it. Here’s an example:

Purpose: Find Aunt Sarah.

Hypothesis: If I can find Aunt Sarah, I can avoid being sent to the Holy Rollers’ house.

Materials: Mom’s box, a backpack…

Procedure:

1) Get a Citifare Bus schedule… (p. 89)

These scientific procedures serve to underline Maya’s voice. They also reinforce her character as a scientific, logical smartypants. And – even better – they clue the reader in to her ever-plummeting situation (as if the various crises in the story are not enough…trust me, they are).

Bottom line: This is a well-crafted novel, with believable characters who will win you over and quite possibly break your heart.

All You Get Is Me by Yvonne Prinz

Set-up: Aurora (“Roar”) lives on an organic farm in a small town with her father. She misses city life and misses her mother, but she finds solace in her photography, snapping photos and developing them in her own garden shed-turned darkroom.

Main character’s goal: Roar’s goal isn’t simple like “run away to find missing aunt” or “defeat the scariest wizard of all time and save the world.” This is more of a coming-of-age story. Roar just wants to take photographs and be happy, at first. Then she witnesses a car accident that sets off a chain of events threatening not only her way of life, but the entire practice of hiring immigrant farmworkers in California. Roar also meets a boy named Forest, and her goals start to change.

My reaction: Something has gotta be said for reading a summer-set romance in November. I may have thawed out a little. Get this: “The first apricot I pluck off the tree smells of roses and sits heavy in my hand” (p 34). Ahhh.

Also, I can’t help but be in awe of an author who moved from a record-obsessed girl in Berkeley, to an organic farmer’s daughter who is watching – and participating – in a setting that involves and revolves around contemporary immigration issues. Talk about high stakes, with the balance of farming practices, the justice system, and the scorching anger of some small-town, small-minded farmers (Note: small-town and small-minded are not always the same thing!).

Of interest to writers: (With very mild spoiler!) The romance angle was handled in a way that surprised me – namely, there wasn’t a lot of conflict. I kept waiting for a fight, or a shameful secret, or some kind of revelation that put everything into question, and…no. Yet there is still tension, even without that conflict. How is it done? I’ll leave that for you to discover, as I’m worried I gave away too much as it is.

As with The Vinyl Princess, this one has a rather lengthy resolution. I was not bothered in the slightest because it was such a pleasant world to be in! Sometimes we’re rushed through resolutions, when maybe we could slow down a little and enjoy them, like fine desserts.

Mmm. Dessert.

Back to the book review!

Bottom line: This book was a great place to hang out in, and Roar’s point of view was engaging. I feel like I made some friends in this book. It’s definitely worth a visit.

Note: the scheduled release is December 21st, so you’ve got something to look forward to – put it on your wish lists!

For Prinz’s site on All You Get Is Me, click here.

You can also visit Yvonne Prinz’s Vinyl Princess website by clicking here.

This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Another random library shelf selection! Another success!

Set-up: This story takes place almost one year after an asteroid hits the moon, knocking it closer to earth, which causes all kinds of messes: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and a layer of ash that blocks the sun from view. Miranda’s family is just getting by, living in the sunroom of their home, with barely-there sustenance in the form of canned goods doled out by a city official.

Main character’s goals: Miranda’s biggest wish is for everything to go back to the way it was before the asteroid hit the moon. She wants a normal life. If she can’t have that, she at least relishes privacy whenever she can get it.

My reaction: I liked this book, although I wasn’t entirely happy with the ending. That’s more of a personal preference thing rather than a failing in the writing. I wanted something a little more concrete. Without giving anything more away, I will say that the ending fit well with the setting – the future is an uncertain place, especially in the world Miranda lives in.

I was totally into the raids they make on abandoned houses, scavenging for food, medicine, and toilet paper. Maybe because I’m always curious about what’s inside all the houses I pass on the street, maybe because I’m a scavenger by nature. Who knows. But it was fun to vicariously break in along with Miranda.

Also, I’m a little disappointed to find that post-apocalyptic fiction for young adults seems to be the new trend, now that sparkly vampires have fallen out of favor. That said, I really like post-apocalyptic stories, and I’ve liked them ever since reading George Stewart’s Earth Abides. So I guess I’m in luck with the wealth of post-apocalyptic fiction. Except that’s the genre I’m writing in right now, and I’d rather be creating a trend than trying to publish in an already-established one. But that is a rant for another time.

Of interest to writers: The diary format isn’t something I’ve seen in awhile…I haven’t even read an epistolary novel in a long time. Pfeffer does a good job of catching Miranda’s voice and making the diary believable.

I got total creepy vibes from one of the new additions to the family, and I felt Pfeffer could have developed that tension and conflict a little more than she did. This would have taken the story in a completely different direction, which is probably why she didn’t expand on that. If it had been my story….

Bottom line: This World We Live In is the third book in a series. (One of the downsides to random library selections is you sometimes jump into the middle – or end – of things.) I have already requested the first book from the library, because I want more from this author! I especially want to see how she handles the “beginning” of the end of the world.