Review: Bleach Vol 1 by Tite Kubo

 

Title: Bleach Vol 1

Author:  Tite Kubo

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

Hot-tempered 15-year-old Ichigo Kurosaki, the hero of the popular fantasy-adventure Bleach, has the unsettling ability to see spirits who are unable to rest in peace. His sixth sense leads him to Rukia, a Soul Reaper who destroys Hollows (soul-devouring monsters) and ensures the deceased find repose with the Soul Society. When she’s injured in battle, Rukia transfers her sword and much of her power to Ichigo, whose spiritual energy makes him a formidable substitute Soul Reaper. But the orange-haired teenager isn’t sure he wants the job: too many risks and moral dilemmas.


Review:

Bleach is one of my favorite series, and I realized with a great deal of dismay that I am far, far behind in my reading of this title.  I don’t think I’ve reviewed many of the volumes, so I opted to take advantage of a comp copy through Vizmanga.com to reacquaint myself with Ichigo, Rukia, and the rest of the gang.  This is a very fun series that features a ton of action, surprisingly touching emotions, and fan favorite protagonists in both Ichigo and Ruikia.  If you enjoyed The Ghost and the Goth or The Curse Workers by Holly Black, I think you should give Bleach a try.  Admittedly, the length of the series is daunting, and it’s still being published, but there are enough volumes released in English that you can read it in manageable chunks by utilizing online sales and trips to the library. 

Ichigo Kurosaki is 15 years old and he can see ghosts.  His sisters can too, though all they can see are faint outlines.  Ichigo can see, touch, talk to, and channel these pesky spirits that he thinks are a pain in the butt.  He just wants to be left alone to mind his own business but NOPE!  That’s not happening.  Ichigo also has a high moral obligation to help anyone in trouble, even those troublesome ghosts.  When an evil spirit threatens to hurt his family, he’s forced to borrow Soul Reaper powers from Rukia, a Soul Reaper who was badly injured saving his bacon.  Too hurt to fight, she offers to lend Ichigo half of her dark powers so he can save his family.  She’s dismayed to discover that he’s so spiritually powerful that he steals all of them, and now she can’t get them back!

I love the relationship between Ichigo and Rukia.  Their back and forth banter is humorous and full of snark.  While Ichigo isn’t exactly disrespectful, he doesn’t understand the need to put himself in danger, fighting the Hollows, regardless of the obligation he acquired when he snatched away all of Rukia’s power.  When the chips are down, though, her forceful prodding  makes him realize how important a Soul Reaper’s duties are.  If he doesn’t take care of the restless spirits, they will eventually turn into Hollows, and once they become these evil monsters, they lose their last shred of humanity.  There is no going back, and the Hollows have an insatiable need to feed on souls.   Rukia put her life at risk to save Ichigo and his family, so he acknowledges that he has a duty to help Rukia until she can figure out a way to get her powers back.

Ichigo is one of my favorite characters because he can’t stand to see an injustice and not want to correct it.  He and One Piece’s Luffy have a lot in common. Both of them will give their heart and soul, not to mention their life, to defend those needing help.  They are white knights in attitude.  Ichigo can’t turn his back on bullying, or just stand by when someone is about to get hurt.  He’s not perfect, and there are many times when he should learn to keep his mouth shut, but he can’t do it.  He is fiercely devoted to his friends and family, and he won’t let anyone hurt them.  Now that he’s a Soul Reaper by default, he can’t ignore when a soul is in danger, either.

The first volume of Bleach is fast-paced, brimming with frantic action, yet it doesn’t let the characters and their interactions take a back seat to all of the fighting.  That is what I enjoy most about Bleach.  The character come to life for me, and I so badly want Ichigo to master his new powers so he doesn’t come to harm.  It’s hard watching such a likeable guy getting the crap beat out of him, even though I have few doubts that he’ll always persevere.  That assurance is the main appeal of manga for me.  I know that even as the protagonists are facing certain doom, they will eventually find a solution to all of their problems.  Reading along as they figure that out is what makes reading them so rewarding.

Grade:  A-

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: The Outside by Laura Bickle

 

Title:  The Outside

Author: Laura Bickle

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

After a plague of vampires was unleashed in the world, Katie was kicked out of the safe haven of her Amish community for her refusal to adhere to the new rules of survival. She enters an outside world of unspeakable violence with only her two friends and a horse by her side

And yet through this darkness come the shining ones: luminescent men and women with the power to deflect vampires and survive the night. But can they be trusted, and are they even people at all?      In this sequel to The Hallowed Ones, it’s up to one Amish girl to save her family, her community, and the boy she loves . . . but what will she be asked to sacrifice in return?


Review:

Last year, I read The Hallowed Ones, and it totally creeped me out.  It was scary and suspenseful, and protagonist Katie was brave, level-headed, and firmly grounded by her Amish beliefs.  I eagerly awaited The Outside, the next book in the series, which picks up right where The Hallowed Ones left off.  The end of the world has come, in the form of a terrible sickness that turns its victims into blood sucking monsters.  Katie, her English boyfriend Alex, and Ginger are trying to stay alive after being expelled from Katie’s Amish community.  They have no shelter, dwindling provisions, and the vampires are dogging their every step.  Only sacred ground is keeping them safe at night, as they trek north to find Alex’s family.  Winter is coming (sorry GoTs fans!), and the odds of their continued survival are bleak.

While I didn’t think The Outside was as suspenseful as the previous book,  I still had a hard time putting it down.  This outing is all about the running.  Running from vampires, running from the weather, running from the knowledge that the world has ended and there few survivors of whatever horrible virus has turned humanity into monsters.  Along the way, they meet some of the desperate survivors, and Katie and Alex are at odds about what to do with the weapon they receive to alter themselves to survive the fight with the Darkness.  Alex jumps at the chance to save himself and have a better way to protect Katie, but Katie struggles with her decision about what to do.  She has already gone against her belief system so many times, and she’s afraid that this measure of self-defense will steal away whatever humanity that she has left.  I thought that this method of battling the vampires was genius, in a Ha! Take THIS evil vampires!! kind of way. 

What I enjoyed best about The Outside was Katie’s struggle to accept the bad things that had happened to her.  She made some choices in both books that had very serious repercussions for both herself and for Alex and Ginger, and while she regretted some of the outcomes, she never regretted the initial decision to save Alex.  That one choice was the catalyst for everything else that happened; being shunned, being forced from the protection of her community, seeing the terrible things she saw while she was Outside.  She is angry with the Elders for not believing the Hexenmeister, and for how their treated Ginger.  She’s hurt that her parents did nothing when she was kicked out of the community, yet she can’t stop worrying about them.  Even though her friends and everyone she knows have turned their backs on her, she is still willing to give up her life to save as many of them as she can.  She’s a very admirable character.

One quibble with the book, and it’s the same quibble I have with most post-apocalyptic/dystopian novels, is how quickly they start to feel repetitive.  The steps are always similar to this – travel as far during the day as possible, forage for food and water, seek a safe place to sleep, encounter monsters and life-threatening events along the way.  Stop to rest after finding a safe haven, then gear up and get back on the road, facing even more danger than before.  The pattern and the pacing occasionally frustrate me.  Katie was an interesting enough character that I remained engaged in this story.  With her Plain upbringing, she’s even better prepared for the end of the world than most heroines.  Katie hasn’t been exposed to modern conveniences, so she’s used to a more rugged life-style.  She knows the land, and knows how to forage.  She hasn’t had a cushy life, but instead had chores and obligations to her family and her community.  I thought this gave her a huge advantage that made her survival more believable.

I enjoyed Laura Bickle’s foray into YA, and look forward to her next project.  I like her voice and I really like her characters.

Grade:  B/B+

Review copy purchased from Amazon

Cover Shot! ZOM-B: Baby by Darren Shan

Cover Shot! is a regular feature here at the Café.  I love discovering new covers, and when I find them, I like to share.  More than anything else, I am consumed with the mystery that each new discovery represents.  There is an allure to a beautiful cover.  Will the story contained under the pages live up to promise of the gorgeous cover art?

Here is one of my guilty pleasures.  The ZOM-B series by Darren Shan is like crack.  It’s fast-paced and fun to read, and just like with potato chips, I couldn’t stop at one. 

In stores September 2013

 

No description yet, but who cares? I know it will be full of zombie mayhem!

Review: ZOM-B: City by Darren Shan

 

Title: ZOM-B: City

Author: Darren Shan

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

 

After escaping a secret military complex amid the zombie apocalypse, B roams the streets of a very changed London, dirty and dangerous and eerily quiet, except for the shuffling of the undead. Once again, B must find a way to survive against brain-eating zombies –and now also against those who have seized control of the city. With danger lurking around every corner and no one to trust, B must decide whether to join the creepy Mr. Dowling in exchange for his protection. When everyone around you is dead, where do you turn for help?


Review:

Darren Shan’s ZOM-B books are like crack.  You can’t read just one, and because each one ends on a cliffhanger, you squirm with anticipation until the next one hits store shelves.  While I normally abhor cliffhangers, the release schedule is accelerated, so you get a new installment every 3 months.  The story is also so straightforward that there’s not much to forget from one book to the next.  B, an revived zombie who managed to keep her intelligence, is fighting to keep her undead life.  The world is a dangerous place since the zombie apocalypse, even for a zombie.  Danger lurks behind every corner, and only quick thinking and luck keep B from a final, horrible death.

Told in tense, in your face prose, ZOM-B: City follows B from her escape from the underground research bunker to her journey through a devastated London.  Along the way, she encounters a handful of surviving humans.  None of these guys are right in the head, but after witnessing the end of the world, I guess everyone is entitled to their idiosyncrasies.  Some of the living want nothing more than to end her unnatural life, while others, though wary, mean her no harm.  As she wanders from one encounter to the next, she pieces together the reality of the new world after the zombie attacks.  Billions have been wiped out, the government is ineffective, and martial law is in effect.  The remaining humans have huddled together in walled compounds, and the search is on for survivors.  B thinks that she can help save humanity – since she hasn’t become a mindless monster, perhaps a cure can be manufactured from her blood.

Shan pushes the envelope with this series.  It’s truly horrific; he doesn’t shy away from gore and violence, and he paints an interesting picture of how the survivors would behave.  They have all been twisted by their experiences, B included.  They have all seen things that aren’t meant to be seen, and there is no going back to a time before the bloodshed and death of the zombie uprising.  Mr Dowling is particularly disgusting.  This sicko clown accessorizes with human remains.  I really want to know his story, and what’s the deal with the mutants?   How did the whole zombie nightmare happen in the first place?  These short novels are impossible to put down, and I look forward to hunkering down with each new installment.  While occasionally disgusting, ZOM-B isn’t so scary that I’m afraid to read it after dark, and plot advances so quickly that it’s hard not to gobble up each new installment in one sitting.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

 

Title:  Something Strange and Deadly

Author:  Susan Dennard

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

There’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia. . . .

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about.

Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper:

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor . . . from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including the maddeningly stubborn yet handsome Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.


Review:

I was disappointed with Something Strange and Deadly.  Honestly, I don’t know if anything could have lived up to the hype surrounding this title, and since I was waiting with such a sense of anticipation, it fell short for me.  The beginning was intriguing – Eleanor is searching for a sign from her brother that he’ll be returning home soon, and poof!  A stinky, reanimated corpse gives her a note from Elijah.  That’s so much better than using a carrier pigeon!  Just wrestle up a corpse when you need to pass a note to somebody!  It will terrify the recipient, but  who’s going to try to incept your missive? 

After it is apparent that Elijah has decided, yet again, to delay his homecoming, Eleanor’s mother decides to use the opportunity to hold a séance, instead of the already planned and paid for  welcoming party.  She has to marry Eleanor off, if they hope to retain their current lifestyle, since Elijah isn’t doing his job and providing for them.  With Elijah a constant no-show, Eleanor’s mother is getting desperate.  With her husband dead and her son failing to care for the family, desperate measures are called for.

I loved the séance.  It’s creepy, and her mother’s foolishness calls forth a very dangerous spirit.  Whoa!  Who would have thought that a parlor game would have such frightening results?  The evil spirit dogs Eleanor’s footsteps for the entire book, so, yeah, thanks, mom, for messing around with stuff you are obviously not capable of handling.

I am trying to put my finger on why this story didn’t work for me, and I think it was because there is so much going on.  And because Eleanor is constantly leaping into danger.  There are zombies lurching around the graveyard?  Let’s go check them out!  There are headless corpses wandering the streets?  Let’s go out without a chaperon and see what we can find out.  While all of the sneaking around showed that Eleanor was headstrong and wasn’t going to take a backseat to anyone, it also proved that she lacked the one thing necessary for living a long and zombie-death free life.  Yup, that common sense stuff.  Eleanor needed to display a little more of it.  A lot more, actually.

Another thing that drove me batty was how the characters snarled, shrieked, growled, and screamed at each other.  All of those noises!  Nobody just talked or held a quiet conversation.  Nope!  That’s just a pet peeve of mine, though, and your mileage may vary.

There is a dreaded love triangle, between handsome, wealthy Clarence and Daniel, a boy from the wrong side of the tracks who is on the run from the law.  He’s a gifted inventor, though, and his devices help battle the zombies.  I never liked Daniel, which was another impediment to my enjoyment of the book.  I didn’t like the way either potential love interest treated Eleanor, but Daniel’s demeanor was particularly grating.  Nicknaming her Empress, he was constantly dismissive of her,  at least until the very end of the book when she saved his bacon.    I don’t know that  I would have thrown myself into the midst of a zombie horde to save anybody in this book, other than Jie. 

While Something Strange and Deadly failed to impress me, it will appeal to action lovers.  If the book hadn’t been so hyped for me, I think I would have enjoyed it more. 

Grade:  C/C-

Review copy obtained from my local library

Win The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan!

Today I am giving away a copy of Carrie Ryan’s The Dead-Tosses Waves!  Got a hankering for a zombie story?  Enter for your chance to win!

About the book:

Gabry lives a quiet life. As safe a life as is possible in a town trapped between a forest and the ocean, in a world teeming with the dead, who constantly hunger for those still living. She’s content on her side of the Barrier, happy to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse. But there are threats the Barrier cannot hold back. Threats like the secrets Gabry’s mother thought she left behind when she escaped from the Sisterhood and the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Like the cult of religious zealots who worship the dead. Like the stranger from the forest who seems to know Gabry. And suddenly, everything is changing. One reckless moment, and half of Gabry’s generation is dead, the other half imprisoned. Now Gabry only knows one thing: she must face the forest of her mother’s past in order to save herself and the one she loves.

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Review: The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

 

 

Title: The Dead-Tossed Waves

Author: Carrie Ryan

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Gabry lives a quiet life. As safe a life as is possible in a town trapped between a forest and the ocean, in a world teeming with the dead, who constantly hunger for those still living. She’s content on her side of the Barrier, happy to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse. But there are threats the Barrier cannot hold back. Threats like the secrets Gabry’s mother thought she left behind when she escaped from the Sisterhood and the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Like the cult of religious zealots who worship the dead. Like the stranger from the forest who seems to know Gabry. And suddenly, everything is changing. One reckless moment, and half of Gabry’s generation is dead, the other half imprisoned. Now Gabry only knows one thing: she must face the forest of her mother’s past in order to save herself and the one she loves.

 

Review:

I am trying to finish up some series that I started reading, and Carrie Ryan’s zombie series is at the top of the list.  I love the world-building; zombies have been decimating the human population for decades, cutting off the remaining human settlements.  Life revolves around not getting eaten by zombies.  A bite will turn a normal, healthy human into a slavering, mindless monster.  Walls and fences have been erected around the towns and villages to keep the creatures out, and Gabry’s mother, who lives in the lighthouse, must patrol the shoreline and dispatch any of the undead that the tide brings in.  Gabry is content with her life; she obeys the rules, helps her mom, and tries to stay out of trouble.  This makes one giant lapse in judgment on her part almost inconceivable.  Bowing to peer pressure, she sneaks over the wall to go to the old roller coaster, putting herself, and her entire village, at risk.  Gabry and her friends are, predictably, attacked by a zombie, and the consequences of her breaking the rules will have repercussions she could never have guessed at.  It sends her on a harrowing race through the Forest of Hands and Teeth, in search of her past, and in search of the truth.

While I love the deadly, menacing world where Gabry lives, I was not so enamored with Gabry herself.   I found her so shallow and immature, and I could not relate to her.  Even after the disastrous outing beyond the Barrier,  a willful act that destroys most of her generation of teens from Vista, she tells herself that she wouldn’t change a thing about that night, because then she and Catcher would never have brushed their together.  Wait? What?!  Most of her friends are either killed or turned into zombies, or are going to be banished from the village, and that’s okay, because why? She and her crush, Catcher, brushed lips together.  They don’t even share a proper toe-curling kiss! No, they brush lips, and that life-altering experience was worth the cost of several lives, including her best friend forever, Cira.  This made no sense to me, and made me dislike Gabry intensely.

When The Dead-Tossed Waves centered on Gabry and friends race to elude the undead and the Recruiters, I enjoyed this book.  As long as Gabry was reacting to all of the near-death situations she is constantly confronted with, I thought this was a tense, exciting read.  As soon as Gabry started her endless internal monologues, I was jarred out of the story and wished she would just. Stop. Talking!  to herself.  I think that I felt this way because she established herself to me as a self-possessed, self-involved, and selfish woman who always put her own desires ahead of everyone else’s.  When her mother makes confessions about her past, Gabry rejects her, condemning her for lying to her.  This bothered me because Mary’s whole life revolved around making a safe, secure home for Gabry, which was something that she didn’t really have when she was a girl.  For Gabry to abruptly turn her back on her mother, to let her venture off into the Forest by herself, I just couldn’t forgive her for that.  Gabry had already crossed the Barrier several times by herself, which was strictly forbidden, yet she was willing to let Mary go alone.  She was too scared to go with the woman who loved her and raised her, but she was willing to put herself in harm’s way if a cute boy was waiting for her?  That just didn’t say much about Gabry’s strength of character, and since I didn’t respect her, I had a hard time liking her.  She does come around by the end of the book, but it was a little too late for me.

That said, I did enjoy aspects of the book.  I just didn’t not like the protagonist.  I’m disappointed that I didn’t enjoy The Dead-Tossed Waves more, and  I am hoping that The Dark and Hallow Places will be more up my alley. 

Grade: C+

Review copy ordered from Amazon

Review: The Dead by Charlie Higson

 

 

Title: The Dead

Author: Charlie Higson

Series: The Enemy #2

The Dead (Enemy) Digital

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

The disease only affects people sixteen or older. It starts with the symptoms of a cold. Then the skin begins to itch, and spots appear–spots that soon turn into pus-filled boils. But the worst part is the headache, the inner voices that tell you that you need to eat them . . . the young ones.

When the Disaster strikes, the world turns upside down for Ed, Jack, Bam and the other students at Rowhurst School. The parents and older siblings they left back at home are dead–or worse. Once the teachers go on the attack, the kids know it’s time to escape and make their way to the city.  It’s got to be better in London . . .
or will it be worse?

Higson’s terrifying, utterly compelling prequel to The Enemy introduces an all-new cast of characters and sets the stage for a dramatic third book in the series.


Review:

I have had The Dead on my TBR for over a year.  I actually started it, found it a bit too intense at the time, and set it aside for another day.  October always puts me in the mood for scary stuff, so I pulled the book out again and wondered why I ever put it down in the first place.  This is a fast-paced, harrowing vision of the future, with likeable kids left to fend off the crazed adults who are trying to eat them.  Yeah, that’s pretty scary and nightmarish, but Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series is so compelling that you want to see what happens next.  The only thing I am still iffy on is how the “sickos” got sick in the first place, but that is often a complaint with post-apocalyptic stories; there usually isn’t a concrete reason for why  things are now the way they are, and I need all of those background details to be fully invested in a story.  We get some background that was lacking from the first book, The Enemy, but there is still so much to know about what exactly went wrong.

Like The Enemy, The Dead follows a small group of kids as they struggle to survive in the terrible new world they wake up to.  All adults have contracted some weird disease that makes them flesh eating, pus-filled monsters.  They crave the tender flesh of kids, which makes it even more frightening.  These awful, nightmarish creatures are consumed with the need to eat kids.  Yuck!  They are weakened by sunlight, but if a group of yummy kids wanders by, the zombies will venture out into the sunlight for a tasty snack.  This book proves that it’s not easy being a kid!  At any moment, some gross, oozy adult may swoop around a corner and eat you!

I liked the protagonists, which made it hard when several of them met with an early demise.  I will give Higson credit for shocking me several times with the unexpected death of one of my favorite characters.  Talk about heart-breaking!  I have walked through the monster infested streets of London, gotten to know and like most of the cast, and then had my heart ripped out every time someone succumbed to death, either from sickness, grievous wounds, or becoming dinner for the zombies.  Sob!  This made reading a very tense experience, because I was so afraid that another favorite would meet his maker.  At point one, after Ed crawls into a house in a desperate bid for safety, only to find it filled with zombies, I screamed and had to set the book aside for an hour or so.  Gah! I felt as though I was working through an intense cardio workout as the end of the book approached.  I couldn’t breathe!  I felt all trembly!  I wondered how the younger kids hadn’t all keeled over in fear!  Even the teens were at a distinct disadvantage.  The adults were bigger, stronger, and they only had one thought in their rotting brains – EAT THE KIDS!!  GAHHH!!!

Some of the action and descriptions were a bit over the top, and only added to the gore-factor, without progressing the plot much.  While traumatic and action-packed, Jack’s journey back home didn’t serve much purpose other than to gross the reader out.  An arena filled with bloated, rotting corpses?  Check.  Three brave boys with a bit too much curiosity? Check.  A gooey, ooey race through mountains of stinky, maggot infested bodies to escape a zombie horde?  Yup, check, you got that, too.  I felt that much of this particular adventure dragged at the pacing, and it didn’t keep me engaged in this story thread.  I kept longing to get back to the other kids, get back to the day to day survival, and leave Jack’s selfish side adventure in the past.

The story roared back to life for me shortly after that,  and I stayed engaged until the end.  I don’t think that it’s necessary to read The Enemy before diving into The Dead, as the events take place prior to the first book.  I’ve got The Fear, the third book in the series, on my wish list, and I am curious to see where the story goes next.  Originally a planned trilogy, the series will now be seven volumes, according to a quote from the author.  I wonder how long he can carry the momentum, and keep the plot fresh and exciting.  I’m eager to find out!

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by publisher