Book Review: Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black

Book Review: Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly BlackZombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black
Published: September 21, 2010
Format: eBook (432 pages)
Genres: Fantasy, Short Stories, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

It's a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths--for good and evil--of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?
2 Stars

Reading Zombies vs. Unicorns taught me that short stories and I don’t get along. At all.  Or maybe reading too many short stories in a row is bad for my mental health.  It took me a long time to get the characters and the world straight in my mind (and that applies when I read anything) so by the time I’ve finally figured it out for each of these the story was over! Because they were short!  It was very frustrating and made me feel like I wasn’t making much progress.  It took me an insane 6 weeks (!) to read all these short stories even counting the fact that I skipped or skimmed most of the zombie stories.  Lesson learned – I will take short stories one at a time and then move on to something longer.  Never again will I read so many in a row.  I think my brain melted.

That being said, I did enjoy seeing some of my favorite authors do interesting things with the short story format.  Short stories have the ability to be a little more edgy since they don’t last too long.  Something that would tire you in a novel is fascinating in a short story.  I loved the unique mythologies and origin stories that the authors came up with for the zombies and unicorns.

Here’s my thoughts on a few of the short stories that stood out to me.

The Highest Justice by Garth Nix was a zombie story that had a setup similar to Twilight.  This boy loves this other boy but he also wants to eat him. I didn’t finish this one because I found it too vulgar and gross for my taste with a cheesy villain on top.

I adored Purity Test by Naomi Novik.  It played on the stereotypes of unicorn stories.  The unicorn was male and snarky yet pretty and had a modern New York accent. It just got better and funnier from there with fun pop culture references which I love!  10 points to this short story for the Harry Potter reference!

Children of the Revolution by Maureen Johnson was the only zombie story I liked in this entire collection.  It was hilarious and unexpected.  THAT was definitely an origin story for zombies that I have never heard before.

My favorite story in the entire bunch was The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn By Diana Peterfreund.  I think it was perfect for this collection because it had a zombie element to it because the unicorns were dangerous.

Cold Hands by Cassandra Clare was probably the most boring and unmemorable story of the bunch.  There was a castle somewhere in the story. Maybe. That’s all I remember.

There was commentary at the beginning of each story between Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier “arguing” about which team was better. I found every thing that Justine (Team Zombie) said to be tedious and annoying.  I didn’t connect with her humor at all.

 Overall, this was a fun collection of unique spins on zombies and unicorns but you might find yourself skipping the other stories if you are more partial to one team or the other. I was Team Unicorn, you could say, and I didn’t enjoy most of the zombie stories.  Also, I might have enjoyed these stories more if I had taken breaks from it instead of reading them all in a row.

Content Rating: High, for strong language, violence (some of which was kind of disturbing) and one mention of partial nudity.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Holly Black

Holly Black

Holly Black is a best-selling author of contemporary fantasy novels for kids, teens, and adults. She is the author of the Modern Faerie Tale series (Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside), The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), and The Good Neighbors graphic novels (with Ted Naifeh) The Poison Eaters and Other Stories, a collection of short fiction, and The Curse Worker series (White Cat, Red Glove, and Black Heart). She is also the co-editor of three anthologies, Geektastic (with Cecil Castellucci), Zombies vs. Unicorns (with Justine Larbalestier), and Welcome to Bordertown (with Ellen Kushner). Her most recent works are the middle grade novel, Doll Bones, and the dark fantasy stand-alone, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Theo, in a house with a secret library.

Book Review: Among the Nameless Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Book Review: Among the Nameless Stars by Diana PeterfreundAmong the Nameless Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Series: For Darkness Shows the Stars #0.5
Published: June 4, 2012
Format: eBook (60 pages)
Genres: Dystopian, Novella, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

Before Kai joined the Cloud Fleet, he wandered… AMONG THE NAMELESS STARS

Four years before the events of FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS, the servant Kai left the North Estate, the only home he’d ever known, and Elliot North, the only girl he ever loved, in search of a better life. But the journey was not an easy one.

Featuring narrow escapes, thrilling boat races and at least one deadly volcanic wasteland.
2 Stars

Among the Nameless Stars was a prequel novella for one of my favorite novels, For Darkness Shows the Stars.  The writing in this novella didn’t seem to be the same quality that I loved in the novel.  The story was ok but not terribly interesting.  I feel like if there’s going to be a prequel it should be about something mind-blowing or amazing and the simple plot about the boat race was not enough to keep my attention.  I just didn’t see the point of this novella.  I didn’t get any new insights into the story.  It fills in details about Kai but I already knew where the plot was going.  It might be that it’s just been too long since I’ve read For Darkness Shows the Stars that made it feel like I didn’t learn anything new or interesting.

Even though I wasn’t a fan of this prequel, you should definitely still check out For Darkness Shows the Stars.

Content RatingMild, for very brief non-graphic mentions of abuse.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Diana Peterfreund

diana peterfreund

Diana Peterfreund has published eight novels for adults and teens, including the four-book Secret Society Girl series (Bantam Dell), the “killer unicorn novels” Rampant and Ascendant (Harper Teen), and For Darkness Shows the Stars, a post-apocalyptic retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. In addition, she’s written several critically acclaimed short stories and a variety of non-fiction essays about popular children’s literature. Diana lives in Washington D.C., with her family.


Book Review: House of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie Whipple

Book Review: House of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie WhippleHouse of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie Whipple
Published: April 15, 2014
Format: eARC (352 pages)
Genres: Paranormal Romance, Young Adult
Source: For Review

Josephine Hemlock has spent the last 10 years hiding from the Curse that killed her mother. But when a mysterious man arrives at her ivy-covered, magic-fortified home, it’s clear her mother’s killer has finally come to destroy the rest of the Hemlock bloodline. Before Jo can even think about fighting back, she must figure out who she’s fighting in the first place. The more truth Jo uncovers, the deeper she falls into witchcraft darker than she ever imagined. Trapped and running out of time, she begins to wonder if the very Curse that killed her mother is the only way to save everyone she loves.
2 Stars

My biggest thought about the House of Ivy & Sorrow is that it could have been more.  The voice was there, but it didn’t come out as much as it could have.  The conflict definitely needed more to it.  Even with a twist, the conflict came with an explanation already just based on how the world works and it made it hard for me to stay connected to the story.  I almost didn’t finish this one because about a third of the way through I didn’t feel like I would learn anything new about the conflict.  To be honest, I didn’t learn anything new about the conflict at the end.  It came out like I thought it would.  But the way it was resolved was interesting.  I liked that the resolution came from the girls and their friendship.  Girl power!

I liked the magic and the characters in this book.  The idea of magic coming from places was creative.  The character Nana was one of my favorites.  She had the strongest personality in the book and I enjoyed reading about her.  The love interest seemed a little boring at first, but he came with an interesting twist of his own.  The romance was a little cheesy for my taste, but it was still cute for the most part.

I didn’t enjoy the writing.  There were a few cliche moments, but luckily it didn’t go to the extreme or I would have definitely chucked this book across the room.  The dialogue was interesting, but I found that the main character said “No” a lot, in big long strings, when things didn’t go her way.  Maybe it’s a little much to expect someone to realistically be eloquent in moments of stress.  I don’t know.

I was disappointed, to say the least, when I found out the villain’s motivation.  I think this goes along with the weak conflict.  The villain and conflict just needed to be turned up a notch and it would have been awesome! And then the villain had to go and be all tacky. He was cheesy enough to make me cringe a little.  If only he had a mustache to twirl….

Overall, the magic and characters were good but without a strong conflict or interesting villain motivation this book just didn’t keep my interest.

Content Rating: Mild, for a few brief kissing scenes and pain used for magic that is mildly disturbing (e.g. pulling out fingernails and teeth etc.)

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  I received this book for review from the publisher, HarperTeen, in exchange for an honest review. I was not told what to say, I was not paid to write this review and all the opinions expressed are my own.  I read an Advanced Reading Copy for this review. 

About Natalie Whipple

Natalie Whipple

Natalie Whipple, sadly, does not have any cool mutations like her characters. Unless you count the ability to watch anime and Korean dramas for hours on end. Or her uncanny knack for sushi consumption.

She grew up in the Bay Area and relocated to Utah for high school, which was quite the culture shock for her anime-loving teen self. But the Rocky Mountains eventually won her over, and she stuck around to earn her degree in English linguistics at BYU. Natalie still lives in Utah with her husband and three kids, and keeps the local Asian market in business with all her attempts to cook Thai curry, Pho, and “real” ramen.

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Book Review: A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan DoyleA Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Series: Sherlock Holmes #1
Published: 1887
Format: eBook (108 pages)
Genres: Classic, Mystery
Source: Purchased

A Study in Scarlet is the first published story of one of the most famous literary detectives of all time, Sherlock Holmes. Here Dr. Watson, who has just returned from a war in Afghanistan, meets Sherlock Holmes for the first time and they become flat-mates at the famous 221B Baker Street. In A Study in Scarlet Sherlock Holmes investigates a murder at Lauriston Gardens as Dr. Watson tags along with Holmes while narratively detailing his amazing deductive abilities.
2 Stars

I loved the writing in A Study in Scarlet.  The dialogue was catchy and natural.  I found the book surprisingly easy to read especially considering how old it is.  The thing that really stands out in this book and the thing that has made it last for so long are the characters.  Sherlock is very cheerful, eccentric, sarcastic, loves to be flattered, and is bluntly honest.  And of course the thing that makes his character so fun to watch on TV in the modern adaptation – his cocky genius.  I couldn’t hate this guy if I tried.  I loved seeing these two iconic characters meet (Sherlock and Watson) to set the stage for the rest of the Sherlock Holmes series.

The first half of this book was a fascinating mystery.  I was glued to the story, turning pages, dying to know what happens next.  Then we get to Part 2.  The second half of the book was the longest, most drawn out and boring flashback I have ever read.  We find out the solution to the mystery at the end of Part 1.  Part 2 goes into why he did it.  Apparently Mr. Doyle doesn’t believe in recapping what happened.  We get to live it.  If we’re going to live through it, at least make it interesting.  It was not at all interesting because almost nothing happens for most of Part 2.  I skimmed a lot of it.  It also felt very disjointed to go from a mystery in London to the American West.  It felt like I was reading two different stories that had nothing to do with each other.  Part 2 is only tied in to Part 1 by the very end.

Portrayal of Mormons

I have to say as a Mormon, reading Part 2 of this story was a little difficult for me since Mormons are not painted in a good light for this part of the story.  But let’s start with this hilarious quote first.

In the central portion of the great North American Continent there lies an arid and repulsive desert…

– Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet p. 63

Repulsive!  Arid! My home this is! Yoda and I are highly offended.  Okay not really.  But he kept describing the whole state of Utah like it was entirely covered in the Salt Flats where everything was covered in “alkali dust” and used words like “barren”, “misery”, “despair,” and my personal favorite “gloomy.”  The whole thing just made me laugh.  While it is true that the west side of the Great Salt Lake is all those things, the pioneers settled on the EAST side of the lake which was your more run-of-the-mill desert with snakes and cacti and stuff.  And regular desert dirt that almost nothing can grow in thank you very much.  I mean if you’re going to insult my state at least get it right. :)

The thing I struggled with the most was the portrayal of Mormonism as a cult.  And when I say cult I mean a group forcing people to do things by threats or brain-washing.  Mormons believe the point in life is to make choices.  There is a point in the story where Mormon pioneers find a starving, wandering man and his daughter and say they can join them only if they become Mormon.  Brigham Young (or any Mormon) would NEVER force anyone to be Mormon. Not cool Mr. Conan Doyle.  I did some research and in Mr. Doyle’s defense, he believed these things to be true at the time.  Still – forcing people to do things is against our religion and always has been.

The murderer’s motive was based on their hatred of  the practice of plural marriage (or polygamy).  While Mormons did practice it, it was portrayed in the book that if you didn’t get married to more than one person you were kicked out (and then hunted down by a secret band of murderers.  Say what??  That most definitely didn’t happen).  Not everyone practiced plural marriage.  Many early Mormons were monogamous and were in fine standing with the church.  I won’t go into tons of detail in this review, but if you’re interested the official Mormon (also known as Latter-Day Saints or LDS) website has more information on plural marriage and Mormonism.  It’s an interesting article that talks about the trials the people who lived it faced, how long it was practiced and more.  And just to be thorough Mormons don’t practice polygamy today and haven’t since 1890.

Overall, I adored the first half of the novel and meeting the most iconic characters in literature, but I found the second half to be boring and the anti-Mormonism made me uncomfortable.  I would give the first half of the novel 4 stars and the second half like 1/2 a star.

Content Rating: None.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  

About Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Arthur Conan Doyle was born the third of ten siblings on 22 May 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His father, Charles Altamont Doyle, was born in England of Irish descent, and his mother, born Mary Foley, was Irish. They were married in 1855.

Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

Book Review: Cruel Beauty by Rosamund HodgeCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Published: January 28, 2014
Format: eARC (352 pages)
Genres: Fairy Tale, Retelling, Romance, Young Adult
Source: For Review

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.
2 Stars

Cruel Beauty was a very dark retelling of Beauty and the Beast that had an unexpected mix of Greek Mythology.  The story opens on a very stiff and formal life for the main character Nyx like a dark version of Downton Abbey.  Then we get a nice, long lecture on How This World Works that I found hard to get through.

I was entertained by the story but I really didn’t like the cop-out device of Nyx having “no choice” to create these dramatic situations.  Nyx is engaged to a demon since birth because her father made a bargain and now she has no choice but to marry him.  This bothers me for two reason. 1. It takes away the self-sacrifice element of Beauty and the Beast that I love but, more importantly, think was the main point of the fairy tale.  2. Her dad is an idiot.  And 3 — okay apparently there are more than reasons why this bothers me — she doesn’t “have” to do anything.  It made the main character seem very passive about her life.  She was very negative and spiteful all the time.  I didn’t like her all that much, which is fine, but if she’s going to be unlikable then at least make me understand why she did things.  I never understood why she did things.

I did like the quest of trying to find the demon’s name which was one of the few elements remaining from the original fairy tale.  The castle was a wonderful adventure full of strange rooms like something out of Alice in Wonderland.

I won’t spoil the ending, but I didn’t like it.  I felt like the ending did not have anything to do with what they had been doing for almost the whole novel.  I felt like we spent the whole novel doing one thing and she suddenly decides to change course and last minute do something very drastic.  And as the books comes to a close, I felt like the characters were so completely different that they weren’t even the same characters anymore.  They felt like strangers and I didn’t care all that much what happened to them.

Overall, it was too dark of a fairy tale retelling with poor world building and unlikable characters that just wasn’t for me even though I did like the Greek Mythology element of the story.

Content Rating: Medium, for quite a bit of dark innuendo (that is thankfully not very graphic) about a girl trying to seduce a demon which I found mildly disturbing.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  I received this book for review from the publisher, Harper Collins,  in exchange for an honest review. I was not told what to say, I was not paid to write this review and all the opinions expressed are my own.  I read an Advanced Reading Copy for this review. 

About Rosamund Hodge

Rosamond Hodge

I love mythology, Hello Kitty, and T. S. Eliot. My debut novel, CRUEL BEAUTY (a YA fantasy where Greek mythology meets Beauty and the Beast), is due out on January 28, 2014.