Review: ZOM-B by Darren Shan

 

Title: ZOM-B

Author: Darren Shan

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When news reports start appearing of a zombie outbreak in Ireland, B’s racist father thinks it’s a joke– but even if it isn’t, he figures, it’s ok to lose a few Irish.

B doesn’t fully buy into Dad’s racism, but figures it’s easier to go along with it than to risk the fights and abuse that will surely follow sticking up for Muslims, blacks, or immigrants. And when dodging his fists doesn’t work, B doesn’t hesitate to take the piss out of kids at school with a few slaps or cruel remarks.

That is, until zombies attack the school. B is forced on a mad dash through the serpentine corridors of high school, making allegiances with anyone with enough gall to fight off their pursuers.


Review:

Spoiler free!

This is the first Darren Shan novel that I have read (I have read some graphic novel adaptations previously), and despite some reservations, I enjoyed it very much.  ZOM-B kept me happily entertained on a flight to OKC; it’s a fast read, with blistering action and compulsively readable prose.  I gobbled this up in just a few hours, and was disappointed when I reached the last page, because this one comes to a painful, screeching halt.  It has no ending, just one of those annoying To Be Continued on the last page.  While I now feel invested in the series and will be on board for the next volume, I worry that the next book won’t work for me as well.  This one hit at the right time; with Halloween looming, I was in the mood for something scary, and being trapped on a plane for was few hours, I needed something to occupy my time and keep me from wallowing in boredom.  ZOM-B did that; in spades.  I don’t know if I will feel the same way, or have the right circumstances, when ZOM-B Underground hits stores February of next year.

B is a high school student, and after hearing reports of a zombie invasion in an Irish town, B’s father laughs the news off as a hoax.  When B’s mother voices her concern, her husband reacts violently, silencing her fears.  B isn’t sure what’s going on, but if the videos and the pictures of rotting dead people viciously attacking and eating helpless people is true, B doesn’t know what to do.  When the zombies show up at school, chaos erupts.  Only those brave enough, and willing to do anything to survive, will live through the massacre.  Will B make it out of school alive?

B is a hard character to like.  After years of trying to fend off his father’s abusive attacks, both on B and on B’s mother, B is exhausted.  Playing along with his father’s racially biased views in order to avoid beatings, B comes across as just as bigoted and narrow-minded as his dad.  While he tries to deny his prejudice, because, hey, he has a black friend, it’s hard to ignore the things B says and does.  The intolerance towards other cultures is a strong theme in the book, but it is so heavy-handed that at times it didn’t work for me.  It grated on my nerves.  Yes, B’s dad is a bully and a jerk, but I didn’t need to be reminded of that every other page. 

B has a lot to deal with at home as his father’s temper often flares out of control.  When news of a zombie plague hits the news, everyone laughs it off as an elaborate joke.  When B’s worst nightmare comes true and the zombies overrun  school, it seems as though the world is ending.  Only quick thinking and brutal reactions keep B and a small handful of students alive.  The zombies are relentless, and B’s little group is shrinking fast.  One after another is picked off and eaten by the ravenous zombies.  Soon, it’s everyone for themselves.  While the small group is forced to work together, it is painfully obvious that the peace will only hold as long as it is mutually beneficial.  If tossing a student or two to the zombie mob will buy the more ruthless survivors a reprieve from a painful death, so be it.  The group dynamics  were always shifting, which made the read even more suspenseful, because you never knew when someone would be sacrificed or eaten by the zombies. 

This is a fun, fast, gory read, right up until that dreaded, hated, To Be Continued.  I like a little more closure to my books, but as this is the first in a projected 12 book series, I guess I need to get used to running into a lot of brick walls.

Grade:  B/B-

Review copy provided by publisher

I Say, You Say Opposites and I Say, You Say Animal Sounds Giveaway!

Happy Saturday! Thanks to Little Brown, I have THREE sets of the cutest board books to giveaway!  I SAY, YOU SAY OPPOSITES! and I SAY, YOU SAY ANIMAL SOUNDS! by artist Tad Carpenter, released on September 11th, and now you have a chance to win a set!

From the publisher:  

I SAY, YOU SAY OPPOSITES! and I SAY, YOU SAY ANIMAL SOUNDS! are interactive and endlessly entertaining lift-the-flap board books that emphasize "word prediction," an important language development step for young readers. As parent readers call out the animal on each page, the child reader is encouraged to triumphantly respond with the correct answer, hidden beneath the flap. Fun and educational, this call-and-response technique offers a playful interactive reading experience and is a delightful and exciting way for children to learn words.

With a bright, retro-style palette and round-eyed animals, the I SAY, YOU SAY board book series is perfect for today’s hip babies and parents.

Tad Carpenter is an illustrator and designer living in Kansas City, Missouri, and an adjunct professor in graphic design and illustration at the University of Kansas. You can visit him at www.tadcarpenter.com.

I SAY, YOU SAY OPPOSITES!

So cute!!

 

I SAY, YOU SAY ANIMAL SOUNDS!

So adorable!

Entering is easy! Just fill out the Rafflecopter widget below.  Extra entries for following and tweeting.   US mailing addresses only, please.

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Review and Giveaway: Horseplay! by Karma Wilson & Jim McMullan

 

Title: Horseplay!

Author:  Karma Wilson

Illustrator: Jim McMullan

Publisher: Little Brown and Company

 

Review:

Poor Farmer is confused.  His horses are so exhausted that they sleep the day away.  Farmer  knows that they aren’t working that hard, so he’s worried that something is wrong with them.  One night, he hides behind a hay bale and he catches them in the act!  What is going on at night? Horseplay!! Lots and lots of horseplay!  These silly horses stay up all night long goofing off, and that leaves them much too tired to work. 

This is a pretty funny picture book.  The horses keep finding ways to outwit Farmer and continue to have their fun.  That’s a remarkable accomplishment since horses have brains the size of a walnut.  Farmer gets mighty worked up each time he catches his horses being naughty, and the colorful art captures his frustration with a great deal of humor.  The illustrations are cartoony and fit well with the lighthearted tone of the book. 

GIVEAWAY!

Little Brown and Company has a copy of Horseplay! for one lucky reader.  Not sure if you want to enter?  Here are some sample pages from Horseplay!  Look at those exhausted ponies!  Look at that frustrated Farmer!

I love this one!  Farmer has been outwitted by the sly ponies!

 

Fill out the widget below to enter for your chance to win a finished copy of Horseplay!  I want a young reader to enjoy this book, so entering is easy!  Only two entries.

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Review and Giveaway: Red Knit Hat Girl by Naoko Stoop

 

Title: Red Knit Cap Girl

Author: Naoko Stoop

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Red Knit Cap Girl is a little girl with a big dream — to meet the Moon.

Red Knit Cap Girl lives with her animal friends in an enchanted forest. There is so much to see and do, but more than anything Red Knit Cap Girl wishes she could talk to the Moon. Join Red Knit Cap Girl and her forest friends on a journey of curiosity, imagination, and joy as they search for a way to meet the Moon.

Gorgeously illustrated on wood grain, Red Knit Cap Girl’s curiosity, imagination, and joy will captivate the hearts of readers young and old as her journey offers a gentle reminder to appreciate the beauty of the natural world around us.

Review:

Red Knit Cap Girl is the story of a girl who longs to talk to the moon.  After many failed attempts, she asks Mr Owl how to reach the moon.  By following his advice, she throws a party with her animal friends in honor of the moon.  Gentle and quiet, the book shows that anything can be accomplished once you set your mind to it.  With help from her forest friends, Red Knit Cap Girl discovers a way to finally make her dream come true.

I liked the quiet tone of Red Knit Cap Girl, and thought the soft illustrations fit the story perfectly.  The animals don’t have a lot of distracting detail, but instead are painted with rounded edges.  The shading for the animals is delicate, and the backgrounds all feel textured, which gives the paintings a great deal of depth.  The artist created her paintings on plywood, and each page has a unique backdrop for the story.  I thought the illustrations were cute, and Red Knit Cap Girl and her acorn shaped head are adorable.

GIVEAWAY!

Little Brown and Company has a copy of Red Knit Hat Girl for one lucky reader.  Not sure if you want to enter?  Here are some sample pages from Red Knit Hat Girl!  The animals are super cute! 

 

I love how her knit hat looks like an acorn!

Fill out the widget below to enter for your chance to win a finished copy of Red Knit Hat Girl!  I want a young reader to enjoy this book, so entering is easy!  What are you waiting for?

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Review: Revived by Cat Patrick

 

Title: Revived

Author: Cat Patrick

Publisher: Little Brown

ISBN: 978-0316094627

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

As a little girl, Daisy Appleby was killed in a school bus crash. Moments after the accident, she was brought back to life.

A secret government agency has developed a drug called Revive that can bring people back from the dead, and Daisy Appleby, a test subject, has been Revived five times in fifteen years. Daisy takes extraordinary risks, knowing that she can beat death, but each new death also means a new name, a new city, and a new life. When she meets Matt McKean, Daisy begins to question the moral implications of Revive, and as she discovers the agency’s true goals, she realizes she’s at the center of something much larger—and more sinister—than she ever imagined.

Review:

Revived is so not what I was expecting, based on the vibes I got from the cover.  I was expecting something creepy and scary, but this book isn’t.  It’s the story of a girl who finally learns how to make emotional connections with her peers, how to trust others, but more importantly, it’s the story of a girl who finally realizes how precious life really is.

Daisy has a rather skewed view of death.  She’s died five times, and been Revived every time.  Starting with a tragic bus accident when she was a young girl, she has been part of a top secret government experiment most of her life.  She’s an orphan, and she’s being raised by two agents working on the project.  Her life is shrouded in secrecy, and because she has to keep so many things private, she has never really had a friend.  When you are constantly forced to up and move, changing your identity, it’s hard to put down roots.  In the past, Daisy never really minded.  Once she meets Matt and Audrey, her idea of what’s important in life changes abruptly.  Life is precious, especially if you only have one life to live.

I liked Daisy a lot.  She’s smart and mature for her age, distant emotionally and not sure what to make of kids her age.  Audrey and Matt completely change her life.  She starts to feel comfortable in her new home, and she doesn’t want to have to move again.  She wants to be like a normal kid.  The problem with Daisy is that she’s not a normal kid.  No matter how you slice it, she is different, and after she learns that her new best friend is terminally ill, she has a very rude awakening.  After most people die, they are dead forever.  Being part of the Revive project, Daisy never really grasped the concept that death is final.  Her deaths never are, so she has developed a blasé attitude towards life and living.  It’s not until she sees, first hand, how brutally painful death is that she begins to appreciate the lives she’s been given.

Parts of the book did disappoint me.  I thought the background on the Revive project was minimal at best,  but as the focus of this story is Daisy and her friendships, this was a minor quibble.   There were too many convenient coincidences, but overall, I enjoyed getting to know Daisy.  She is likeable, and I found her voice compelling.  This was an engrossing read for me, and I polished it off in just two reading sessions.  While the ending is satisfying, I would not be opposed to revisiting Daisy in the future, and that’s saying a lot, because I am normally not a fan of series.

Grade: B

Review copy provided by publisher

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Review: Now is the Time for Running by Michael Williams

 

Title: Now is the Time for Running

Author: Michael Williams

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company

ISBN: 978-0316077903

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Just down the road from their families, Deo and his friends play soccer in the dusty fields of Zimbabwe, cheered on by Deo’s older brother, Innocent. It is a day like any other . . . until the soldiers arrive and Deo and Innocent are forced to run for their lives, fleeing the wreckage of their village for the distant promise of safe haven. Along the way, they face the prejudice and poverty that await refugees everywhere, and must rely on the kindness of people they meet to make it through. But when tragedy strikes, Deo’s love of soccer is all he has left. Can he use that gift to find hope once more?

Relevant, timely, and accessibly written, Now Is the Time For Running is a staggering story of survival that follows Deo and his mentally handicapped older brother on a transformative journey that will stick with readers long after the last page.

Review:

Now Is The Time For Running is a heartbreaking book.  Thinking of the horrible way that people treat each other is sobering and distressing.  I don’t know how Deo, a 14 year-old boy, was able to keep struggling to survive.  His life in Zimbabwe with his mother, grandfather, and brother is hardly an easy one.  They don’t have much other than each other.  Deo has a homemade soccer ball, and he lives to play the game in his dusty village.  His life is shattered when soldiers come to visit, destroying everything that he has in just few awful moments of blood and senseless violence.  Some of the villagers voted against the ruling Zed party, and those treasonous votes, in a sham of an election, have brought death to everyone.

Deo and his older, mentally challenged brother, Innocent, flee from the only home that they have ever known.  They have nowhere safe to go.  They have no relatives to care for them.  In an effort to save them both, Deo decides that they will make the dangerous border crossing to South Africa, a terrifying and perilous journey that almost gets them killed.  There are crocodiles, lions, hyenas, and the scariest predator of them all – men with guns – to evade.  Once in South Africa, they face a different kind of hell – xenophobia from native South Africans and people who won’t hesitate to take advantage of them.

Based on current events, including the 2008 riots in Alexandra, the life of a refugee is not kind to Deo or Innocent.  The book is so gripping because it is set against a backdrop of recent events.  It’s hard for me to think of a child being put through these terrible challenges.  I don’t think I could have survived the crushing poverty or the devastating heartache chronicled in this book.  Deo is forced to age beyond his years, and he must also live with the consequences of his decisions.  Guilt almost destroys him, but ultimately, soccer saves him when he has hit rock bottom.  The game gives him the strength, and most importantly, the hope, to continue living.

Grade: B+ leaning towards an A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Picture Book Review: Substitute Creacher by Chris Gall

 

Title: Substitute Creacher

Author: Chris Gall

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

ISBN: 978-0316089159

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

The troublemaking students of Ms. Jenkins’ class arrive at school one day to discover a substitute creacher has come to put a stop to their monkey business! He regales them with mind-boggling stories about his former students who didn’t follow the rules: Keith the glue-eater, Zach the daydreamer, and Hank the prankster, to name a few. But even this multi-tentacled, yellow-spotted, one-eyed monster’s cautionary tales about the consequences of mischief-making can’t seem to change the students’ wicked ways until he reveals the spookiest and most surprising story of all: his own.

Chris Gall’s vibrant artwork leaps off the page with a dynamic comic book aesthetic that will grab both parents and monster-loving kids!

Review:

I love the premise of Substitute Creacher.  Ms. Jenkins’ class is full of very naughty and very unrepentant children.  One day in late October, these misbehaving kids discover a surprise – they are going to have a substitute teacher!  Nothing prepares them for the creacher – er, teacher – who lumbers through the door.  Mr. Creacher is green, he has eight legs, and he has eyes in the back of his head. Literally!  Will he be able to gain control of Ms. Jenkins unruly class?

While I loved the art, the rhyming prose seemed a little forced, and it didn’t flow smoothly.  Mr. Creacher tries some tough love on his misbehaving children, sharing with them the fates of previous delinquents he’s taught over the years.  There was the boy who brought a shark to class,  the sad, sad tale of Keith, a boy who wouldn’t stop eating glue, as well as a few other miscreants who were so naughty that they met with a dreadful end. 

Mr. Creacher’s portfolio of rascals is amusing, and the prose is lively and humorous.  The rhymes didn’t always work for me, but the illustrations make this book a winner.  The large, eye-catching pictures chronicle the fates of previous naughty kids in vivid, action-packed panels that are reminiscent of a vintage comic book.  Boys will eat this book up.  The light horror elements and comic mayhem will keep them engaged to the end of the story.

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by publisher

Picture Book Review–The Very Fairy Princess Takes the Stage by Andrews and Hamilton

Title: The Very Fairy Princess Takes the Stage

Authors: Julie Andrews & Emma Walton Hamilton

Illustrator: Christine Davenier

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

ISBN: 978-0316040525

 

Review:

Wow, I thought this was a great read!  I love the feel good ending, and thought the illustrations were wonderful.  Gerry, the young protagonist, thinks she is a fairy princess.  She loves sparkles and everything pink, and she never leaves home without her tiara.  When she’s cast as the jester in the ballet production of The Crystal Princess, she’s disappointed.  Not only will she not be allowed to wear the crystal princess’s beautiful and very sparkly white dress, she has to wear a silly hat and shoes with pointed toes and annoying bells.  What is a fairy princess to do, but to try to take all of these setbacks in stride.  When a mishap during the show threatens the production, can a jester save the day?

This is a fun picture book, with a very charming protagonist.  I loved Gerry, and I loved her dance instructor, too.  The compelling narrative drives the story, and the prose kept me thoroughly entertained as I followed along with Gerry as she makes the best of a small setback.  She doesn’t want to be a clown, not when she is so skilled at being a princess.  Why can’t her ballet instructor she that she’s meant to play the part of the princess?  Her attitude changes during the course of the play, and the ending left me smiling.  The whimsical illustrations fit perfectly, and the colorful drawings give energy to the story.  This very fun read will being out the fairy princess in everyone.

Grade: A

Review copy provided by publisher