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The Scorpio Races – Maggie Stiefvater

Just posted my thoughts on this amazing book over at my other (and now main) blog.

This is now my favourite Stiefvater novel. Which is a big call.

If you can’t get enough zombies…

I found a fun new zombie series this week: RG Bullet’s The Caldecott Chronicles. My review is over at my official blog.

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

This book left me exhausted.

It’s pretty much one long chase for most of its 479 pages, but it’s also more than that. It’s original, clever, thought-provoking and disturbing, sitting somewhere on the YA shelf between science fiction and fantasy.

The story is set in the future, on a planet called New World, which has been settled by people wanting to start a fresh life (not dissimilar to the original settlers of another New World a few centuries back).

These church settlers fought a war against the indigenous inhabitants (known as the Spackle), and became infected by a germ that allowed men to hear each other’s thoughts, and those of all living creatures around them – except women.

But in Prentisstown, all the women have now died, and all the males have turned 13 – except Todd. He’s the last boy in the settler town and is counting down the days before he becomes a man.

Todd is used to hearing the thoughts of the men of Prentisstown – dark thoughts filled with anger, desperation and longing – and those of his lively dog Manchee (“Poo Todd!”)

But when he stumbles across a patch of silence down by the river, he knows something isn’t right. He doesn’t know what it means, but just hearing the silence is enough to put his life at risk, and before he understand why, Todd’s on the run with the ever-loyal Manchee.

He discovers the source of the silence and that answer – and the revelation Prentisstown is not the only settlement on New World – turn his life inside out.

For most of The Knife of Never Letting Go, Todd is on the run from the crazed men of Prentisstown, and the threat they pose only escalates as the chase continues.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book as fast-paced as this. one Ness builds the tension quickly and sustains it to the point it’s almost unbearable – in fact, by the showdown at the end, it’s excruciating.

It’s hard not to devour this novel. Aside from the pace, Todd’s narrative voice is sweet and funny, and his journey from innocence to awakening is mesmerising. He makes mistakes that threaten to consume him, and has to make a heart-breaking sacrifice. But he makes good choices too, and it’s satisfying watching him start to come of age (even if he takes some pretty intense punishment along the way).

And then there is Ness’ exploration of themes of ignorance, fear and moral corruption, and how communities might react when half its population has no privacy for their thoughts.

For much of the book, I had no idea what was going on (because Todd doesn’t) – although I could take some good guesses. But by the end, there are enough answers to be make the nail-biting journey worth the effort.

By the end, I was exhausted, and, to be honest, a little deflated by the cliffhanger finale. But it perfectly sets up the second book of the trilogy. Having read some non-spoiler reviews of the rest of the series, I think I’ll take a breath before diving into the rest of the series though…

The Passage – Justin Cronin

I’ve read so much paranormal fantasy lately, I sometimes forget vampires still have a place in their original genre – horror.

Although, Justin Cronin’s epic novel The Passage is much more than just a well written horror story. It’s kind of a cross between The Stand (by Stephen King) and The Road (by Cormac McCarthy). It’s got great characters and more than a few genuine nail-biting moments.

If you’re interested, you can read my full review over at Great Stories.

2010 in review

I love Word Press… The following email summary gets sent to all Word Press bloggers. I’m pretty happy with Other Worlds’ first year… 🙂

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2010. That’s about 26 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 28 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 37 posts. There were 38 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 2mb. That’s about 3 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was July 28th with 114 views. The most popular post that day was Do girls still secretly want to be rescued?.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were twitter.com, paula-greatstories.blogspot.com, readthisbook.wordpress.com, en.wordpress.com, and en.search.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for twilight, pride and prejudice and zombies, vampire, fallen by lauren kate, and the short second life of bree tanner.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Do girls still secretly want to be rescued? December 2009

2

Fallen – Lauren Kate January 2010

3

The vampires you’re having when you’re not having vampires… January 2010

4

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies December 2009

5

Hush, hush – Becca Fitzpatrick January 2010

The Forest of Hands and Teeth – Carrie Ryan

With so much parody and comedy associated with zombies these days, it’s easy to forget they can still provide effective horror fodder.

Having said that, Carrie Ryan’s 2009 novel (with one of the coolest book titles of recent years) is less a classic horror story and more a bleak, brooding tale of survival and perseverance in the face of relentless death.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth is set in an isolated village, surrounded by a forest filled with zombies – infected humans known as the Unconsecrated, who moan and push at the protective fences day and night.

The village is ruled over by the Sisterhood, an order of nun-like authoritarians who dictate a lifestyle and customs akin to Puritan times. (For the first 50 or so pages, I kept picturing the M Night Shyamalan film The Village, but Ryan’s story soon establishes itself as something far more menacing.)

Teenage villager Mary wonders what might be beyond the Forest of Hands and Teeth, but doesn’t begin to obsess over it until her Mother – who has always told her stories about the ocean – becomes infected and Mary is forced to join the Sisterhood.

She discovers the Sisters have kept secrets from the village and starts to turn herself inside out wondering what really exists beyond the Forest of Hands and Teeth.

When the village fence is breached and the unspeakable happens, Mary is forced to choose between continuing the life the Sisters have set in place, or risking her life – and the lives of those she loves – to find the truth.

Ryan’s world building is excellent, as is the slow revelation the Sisters may not been entirely wrong in their intentions to create a new way of life in the aftermath of what is known as The Return.

Ironically, the hunger Mary has to know the truth and find the ocean is not all that different from the driving hunger of the Unconsecrated, to the point it taints everything in her life – including the two brothers who compete for her affection.

Not all questions are answered in this first novel, and given the sequel, The Dead-tossed Waves (now out), is set quite a few years after this one, they may never be.

By the end of this dark and often tragic opening story, the main question left hanging is: is it better to live a life of restriction, ignorance and peace, or one of freedom, truth and suffering?

Linger – Maggie Stiefvater

I was looking forward to this book so much I almost couldn’t bring myself to start it, for fear it wouldn’t live up to my expectations.

But Stiefvater has managed the near impossible: created a novel even more compelling and heart-breaking than Shiver, the first in this series (released last year – my review and Stiefvater’s atmospheric trailers for both books can be found here).

(If you haven’t read Shiver and intend to, stop reading here because there are unavoidable spoilers for that book below).

Linger continues the story of Sam and Grace: “a boy who used to a wolf and a girl becoming one”. In Shiver, werewolf Sam becomes human in the middle of winter and falls in love with Grace, the girl he rescued from his pack years before. But their relationship is overshadowed by the fear Sam may not be able to hold his human form for long, and that he may have turned human for the last time. Sam must fight his nature – and the dropping temperature – to stop himself returning to the wild forever.

If Shiver was all about love, loyalty and freedom of choice, Linger is about grief, loss and escape. But despite the themes, it’s far from depressing. Rather it is beautifully and poetically melancholic, in that wonderful way only Stiefvater can deliver.

Sam is now firmly in his human skin, but it’s Grace whose future is in doubt as it seems the wolf bite from her childhood may finally be claiming her. And into their world comes a new wolf named Cole, a young man full of hurt and anger. He’s desperate to remain in the oblivion his wolf form offers, until Isabel – in her indomitable way – challenges his weakness.

Each character faces intensively personal battles: For Sam, it’s dealing with the loss of his “family”, most of whom he’ll never see in human form again, as well as his fear of losing Grace. For Grace, it’s the fear of what she’s becoming and the real possibility she may die. For Cole it’s finding the courage to stop running away from the carnage he’s wrought in his life and others; and for Isabel, it’s allowing herself to connect to others.

Sam and Grace’s story is still the heart and soul of Linger, but Cole and Isabel’s antagonistic attraction – two incredibly selfish people desperate to keep the upper hand – is a compelling counterweight.

And as Cole’s background unfolds, it’s obvious he’s been a prize tool as a young rock prodigy caught in the world of sex and drugs, which makes his small steps towards the redemption at the end of Linger so rewarding.

Music again plays a strong part in this story, even though we can’t hear it. And the poetry of Stiefvater’s writing – and her gift for unsentimental poignancy – continues to set her writing apart.

Hers are stories to savour, not devour, and – like Shiver – Linger is a wonderfully tactile reading experience.

This second instalment ends on a note of hope, leaving much to be resolved in the third (and final) novel, Forever, due out next year. It’s going to be a long wait…