Review: The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones (9780316418416)

Ryn is the daughter of the gravedigger in her small village next to the forest. When her father didn’t return from the mines, she took over his job. But the forest has always been full of legends and now the dead seem to be returning to life. The bone houses, as Ryn calls them, are scoffed at by the others in the village. When Ryn rescues a young man, Ellis, who grew up in the prince’s castle, she finds a new way to bring some coin to her small family. But the bone houses continue to rise, soon becoming a wave of zombies so large no one in the village can deny their existence. Ryn and Ellis set off to find the mythical cauldron that had caused the bone houses to rise. It means heading deep into the dangerous forest and through the mine where Ryn’s father perished. Along the way, they learn about the wonders of the curse, find the pieces of Ellis’s mysterious past, and discover how it and they fit together.

I adored the premise of this book, which is a medieval setting full of mythical creatures who have all vanished that is facing a zombie apocalypse. The weaving of poverty, cruel landlords, stubborn goats, beloved family and newfound friends together is intoxicating. Add in the horrors of the risen dead, and it’s an amazing amalgamation that really works well.

A large part of its success is Ryn herself. She is a determined protagonist who refuses to leave her family’s home behind even with bone houses everywhere. She is fearless as she battles them, gentle with the dead, and full of contradictions. She is opinionated, funny and entirely fabulous even when she is muddy from head to toe. Ellis is also a great character. He has a weak arm which he treats with natural painkillers. It is an issue on their journey but doesn’t ever get used as an excuse for him not being successful as they travel. He is studious, introspective and forever surprising Ryn with what he says. The two are a great pair, and who doesn’t love a woman who can wield both a shovel and an axe with such skill.

A great zombie book with plenty of brains about it. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Little, Brown and Company.

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (9780062570604)

Released April 3, 2018.

This inventive teen novel mixes a zombie apocalypse with American Civil War era history into one compelling read. Jane was born on a plantation, an African-American child to the white mistress of the house. The dead started to rise only days after her birth, so Jane never knew a world without Shamblers. Now Jane is attending Miss Preston’s a school for African American girls that teaches them how to kill zombies. As she nears graduation, she begins to question how the zombies are being managed in her area near Baltimore. Though she is seeing more of them around, claims are being made that they are being exterminated. As the lies that surround Jane come crashing down, she is sent to a new city in Kansas, but life there is even more brutal than the one she has left behind. It is up to Jane not only to save herself but an entire community from destruction.

Ireland’s world building is incredible rich as are all of the details of the story. It makes it almost impossible to summarize the book effectively, because there is so much more to say! Ireland was inspired by the Indian Boarding Schools in the United States and based her model of zombie training schools from them. This book tackles racism in the same clear cut way that you take a zombie’s head off.

Jane is a great protagonist. She is smarter than almost everyone else in the book, cunning as she quickly creates solutions to impossible situations, and still deeply flawed. She is judgemental of others, often misunderstanding them and falls for the wrong people. She is beautifully proud, almost entirely unable to bite her tongue, and always creating trouble for herself.

A wild and bloody book with a fierce protagonist who sears the page. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray.

Review: Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee

engines of the broken world

Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee

Merciful’s mother has finally died.  After years of growing more and more confused and cruel, she died as the weather grew colder and colder.  Merciful and her brother Gospel had wanted to bury her properly but the bitter weather had worsened and prevented them from digging a hole.  The snow came too, lashing the windows and keeping them from even venturing out to the barn to check on the animals.  So they put their mother under the table and went to bed.  The Minister, in an animal form, said prayers over her but was also firm in saying that she needed a proper burial.  Merciful is starting breakfast the next morning when she hears it, a voice she thought she would never hear again, singing her childhood song.

This novel is completely unique.  It is the story not of a post-apocalyptic world but of the days leading directly into an apocalypse.  Yet it is also a book that explores religion in a way that will certainly bother many people.  This is a religion beyond decay, heading into the final days, one that is flagging but still powerful.  Even better, it is one that is familiar to many of us.  Now add zombies to this complex world, and you are starting to understand why this book is so difficult to explain.

Against this dire setting, we have two young characters Merciful and Gospel.  The two do not get along, both approaching the world from different places.  Yet given the claustrophobic setting, the two are forced to see the truth about each other and their strengths.  It is this setting of a blizzard at the end of the world that makes this book so haunting.  Vanhee writes in a voice that we haven’t heard before either, he tinkers with perception of the characters, and he has created a book where you can’t trust much at all.  It is a wonderfully slippery book, that changes underneath you and turns into something unexpected.  Yet it is also filled with moments of great beauty and character. 

A horror book for teens, this is also something much more.  It is a beautifully written apocalypse that is harrowing, striking and powerful.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Co.

Review: Broxo by Zack Giallongo


Broxo by Zack Giallongo

Princess Zora has traveled from her clan of the Granitewings to find the Peryton Clan and convince them to join the trading alliance that is being formed between the different clans.  When she reaches Peryton Peak though, she does not find the bustling clan that she expected.  Instead, it is a bleak and empty place.  Broxo is one of the few who still live there, a young warrior who survives alongside his huge furry pet.  There are others on the Peak too: a witch with a sordid history, the monster Gloth who hunts for flesh, and the hordes of undead who haunt the lake and the area around it.  This graphic novel takes classic fantasy tropes and adds zombies, making for a thrilling read.

Giallongo is a newcomer to graphic novels, but has created one that will have you looking for all of his previous work.  His pacing is a nice mix of quieter character-rich moments and wild dashes of action that leave readers breathless.  The slow realization of what has happened on the Peak also makes for intense reading, leading the reader to want to figure the puzzle out. 

The combination of a strong female lead and a strong male lead without any romantic entanglement is also refreshing.  The theme here is about pride, family and redemption rather than heartbreak or just hearts. 

A great graphic novel pick for middle school readers who will relish the zombies, the battles and the depth of the storyline.  Appropriate for ages 11-14.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

Review: Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio

zombie in love

Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Scott Campbell

Mortimer the zombie is lonely.  Cupid’s Ball is approaching and he has no one to take.  He does try hard, giving girls candy, hearts, and even diamonds.  But something about him seems to turn them off.  He tries reading advice books, working out, and dance lessons, but nothing worked.  Finally, he takes out an ad in the paper (which Jimmy Buffet fans will be able to hum along to) that invites that special someone to meet him at Cupid’s Ball.  He dresses up and sits by the punch bowl.  But no one takes any notice of him.  Finally, he decides to leave, until he hears a crash behind him, just in time.

DiPucchio fills this book with plenty of zombie puns.  Just the personals ad alone offers plenty of laughs.  She has created a book that works on many levels.  Children will enjoy the simple storyline while tweens and teens will get the puns and antics. 

A lot of the humor is visual in this book.  Campbell’s illustrations have a great wild and zany quality to them that suits the story.  From the dangling eyeball of Mortimer’s skeleton dog to the worms that appear throughout the book, there is plenty to love here.

A wonderful pick for either Halloween or Valentine’s Day or any day in between, this book is a funny look at love, zombie style.  Appropriate for ages 6-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Rot & Ruin: Terrific Terror

Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Are zombies the next big thing?  With this amazing novel, they just might be! 

Fifteen-year-old Benny has grown up in a zombie-infested world, where his town is fenced in to protect the living from hordes of undead.  Cared for by his older brother who Benny despises, Benny tries to find work in his small town.  Unable to find a job, Benny reluctantly agrees to be his brother’s apprentice, even though his brother is not nearly as cool as the other bounty hunters who head out into the wilderness to slay zombies.  As Benny begins to work with his brother, he discovers that there is much more to killing zombies than he thought.  There are also a lot more ways to be human too. 

Maberry has melded the zombie apocalypse world with a coming of age story.  The combination makes for a zombie book with plenty of action and blood, but also one with lots of heart.  Benny is a great lens to view this world through, allowing the reader to discover along with him the truth of the world he lives in.  Maberry’s writing is wonderfully varied.  At times pausing to linger on points, view the wildness of the landscape and storms, and at others rushing into battle scenes with a whipping pace that will have readers breathless. 

The characters here are well crafted, motivated in understandable ways, and have a variety of reactions to this world they have found themselves in.  The reactions are real, honest and believable.  The world building really works well too.  While there are many questions left unanswered about what brought about the zombies rising, those are questions that are deftly built into the story line.  It works well even with the questions.  We can look ahead to more books in the series that could begin to answer them. 

The cover alone will sell this book, but it is also a great choice for teen book talks.  Set the stage of the zombie world and you will have teens lining up to read this one.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

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Zombies vs. Unicorns: How Short Stories for Teens Should Be Done!


Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

Before opening the book, I was firmly a Team Zombie type of gal.  Rotting flesh captures my attention a lot more than lovely white horses.  Sick, I know.   But by the end of this anthology of short stories, I’m leaning more towards those lovely and vicious white horses.

Created from a conversation on Holly Black’s and Justine Larbalestier’s blogs, these stories answer the age-old question of whether zombies or unicorns are better.  A group of bestselling authors of teen fiction joined the battle with their short stories.  The book reads in alternating stories.  One zombie, the next unicorn.  I was impressed by the level of the stories in the collection, offering such a range of takes on zombies and unicorns.  This book is sure to fly off of the shelves thanks to the zombies, the unicorns, and the tantalizing authors involved.  Those authors include, Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, and Meg Cabot.

Just as with any short story collection, there are some stories that stick with the reader longer.  Carrie Ryan’s Bougainvillea is a zombie story set in a world where the zombies have taken over almost completely.  Iza’s father took her and her mother to the safety of an island where he became dictator and kept the population alive.  The story is about control, heritage, and of course, life and death.   There is a wonderful tone to this story, an anchored feeling that remains even as the zombies emerge.  Another of my favorites is The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn by Diana Peterfreund.    Wen saw her cousins slaughtered by a unicorn, now when she sees a captured unicorn at a side show, she is shocked to find herself connecting with it.  She returns the next day, drawn by something and ends up saving a new born unicorn from being killed.  Now she has to figure out what to do with the adorable but deadly creature.   Peterfreund builds a great story effortlessly here, offering a wry tone and another look at her take on killer unicorns.  Scott Westerfeld’s Inoculata offers a zombie tale with a twist.  Here the humans are barricaded against the zombie onslaught again, but something happens that changes everything.  Westerfeld is master of horror mixed with science and that is evident in this story as well.   The Third Virgin by Kathleen Duey tells the story of a unicorn who heals but also steals years of life away.  He is an addict, unable to stop killing or shortening lives.  He meets two virgins who bring him deeper into connection with emotions and happiness, but loses both of them.  Now he is seeking a third virgin.  He hopes that this one can either stop his pain altogether or kill him.  It is an achingly beautiful story with a cunning twist. 

A delight of a short story collection.  It turns out it doesn’t matter if Team Zombie or Team Unicorn wins the battle.  The people who really have won are the readers of the stories.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from copy received from McElderry Books.

Reviewed across the blogosphere with far too many to link to. 

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The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.

Escape from all of the teen vampire novels and into the arms of this stunning zombie novel.  Mary lives in a village surrounded by fences that are the only thing that keep the Unconsecrated out.  Every day they swarm the fences, trying to get in and feast on the living.  Anyone bitten by them turns into a zombie.  Recently, Mary’s father disappeared into the surrounding forest and never returned.  Her mother goes to the fences to see if she can see him in the throng of zombies.  One day her mother goes to the fence alone and is bitten.  Mary has to choose whether she should be killed outright or turned outside the fences to join the zombies there.  She decides to allow her mother to exit the village, a decision her brother refuses to forgive her for.  Mary has two choices as a teen girl in her village.  She can marry and continue the human race or join the Sisterhood, a church group that rules the village.  But she is satisfied with neither choice.  Could there be a third?

I found this book absolutely gripping while reading.  The tension of the village existing by itself surrounded by forest and zombies, the absolute power of the Sisterhood, the strain of families constantly losing people to the Unconsecrated, and the tension of Mary trying to fit in but not be overcome by the society she lives in.  Ryan’s writing is thrilling, bloody and unflinching.  She has created a zombie book that embraces the zombie traditions of blood-thirst and refusal to quit.  It is a joy to see a book so fresh based on such long-standing traditions.

After finishing the book, I was a little less happy.  I found a real lack of answers about this world we found ourselves in.  I didn’t mind the abrupt ending, but I did think that the world itself needed to be fleshed out more and that without some insight into the world it seemed very incomplete.  I will be eager to read subsequent books to see if answers appear, but at this point I am concerned that the thrilling action has overtaken the world building.

I also was confused by Mary’s utter desire for one boy and then her turning away from him when they were finally together only to turn back when faced with losing him.  It made me question this character’s strength and judgment.  I wouldn’t have minded if there was some reason given for the inconsistency, but there was nothing. 

Despite my quibbles, teens will adore this book.  Who could ask for more than zombies, gore and true love?  Appropriate for ages 14-17.