Friday, September 19, 2014

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

The Forest of Hands and Teeth
by Carrie Ryan

(Edited) Publisher's Blurb:
In Mary's world there are simple truths. The Sisterhood always knows best. The Guardians will protect and serve. The Unconsecrated will never relent. And you must always mind the fence that surrounds the village; the fence that protects the village from the Forest of Hands and Teeth. But, slowly, Mary’s truths are failing her. She’s learning things she never wanted to know about the Sisterhood and its secrets, and the Guardians and their power, and about the Unconsecrated and their relentlessness. Her world is thrown into chaos, and she must face the truth about the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Could there be life outside a world surrounded in so much death?

My Reaction:
It was alright.  The book was very readable, as evidenced by the fact that I flew through it in a few days (which is fast for me, because these days, I don't often like to sit and read for hours at a time).  I just didn't really like it.  The protagonist lost me somewhere along the way, and at that point, I stopped caring what happened to her.

I originally thought that I might try to read the second book in the trilogy, at some point, in the hope of finding more resolution for some of the remaining characters-- but since it looks like the protagonist of the second book is a totally different character, I doubt it's worth the effort.  I feel like the return on my investment of time in the characters in this first book didn't reach my expectations, so it's difficult to jump into the next one with the same level of enthusiasm.

Complaints aside, it was a decent read.  I'd recommend it to die-hard fans of YA (emphasis on the A) fiction with a taste for zombies and bittersweet romance. 

Particulars (with SPOILERS):
--  As always, it's interesting to see what the characters in a given zombie novel call the zombies (since it's rarely "zombies").  This time, we have "the Unconsecrated" who inhabit "the Forest of Hands and Teeth" (thus the title).  Toward the end of the book, someone refers to them as "Mudo", which apparently is Spanish for "speechless" (or mute).

--  The story starts off promisingly enough, though I'm not crazy about the present tense.  At least the setting is interesting-- a village that believes itself to be the last human settlement in the world.  On the other hand, I was less than thrilled that the village is run by "the Sisterhood".  A handful of all-powerful, possibly cray-cray religious folks bossing everybody around.  Now, that's original.

--  Have you seen M. Night Shyamalan's The Village?  Prepare for flashbacks.

--  "I know that in my life there have been breaches but I also know that I am very good at blocking out the memories that serve me no purpose."

--  "Who we are and why we are here has been lost to history, lost because our ancestors were too busy trying to survive to remember and pass on what they knew.  What little remnants we once had-- like my mother's picture of my many-greats-grandmother standing in the ocean-- were destroyed in the fire when I was a child.  We know of nothing beyond our village except the Forest, and nothing beyond the Forest at all."

Now, that's extremely convenient for this type of story, and I suppose it's possible, but I never cease to find it very unlikely.  Unless the first generation or two of survivors were totally devoid of interest in personal history, there must be at least oral traditions passed down... And I guess there are, in this story.  (All those stories that become Mary's obsession.)  Still, I persist in thinking that more history would exist.  Survival would come first, yes, but there would be time to tell the children and grandchildren about the past-- and in a place like this, where everyone can read and write, someone would probably have written down some things.

--  Early in the book, I sympathize with Mary's difficult (and melodramatic) situation.  Father and mother recently (un)dead... Cast off by her only sibling...  Ignored by the boy she'd planned to marry (in the absence of a better offer)... Homeless and left with no real option but to make a lifelong commitment to a religious group in which she feels no interest.  I don't blame her for snatching at every chance for happiness-- every stolen moment with Travis.  But at some point that changes, and I lose sympathy for her.  And by the time she finally has Travis, only to realize that he's "not enough", I'm frustrated and nearly lose all interest in what happens to her, from that point on.  ...I'm not saying that such paradoxes and confusions don't happen in real life.  There's plenty of waste and misunderstanding, but that doesn't mean I enjoy reading about it. 

--  In its relatively lighter moments, this book reminds me of The Witch of Blackbird Pond with zombies and more desperation.

--  Ah, the classic love triangle-- or love trapezoid?  Meh.  All the swapping (or supposed swapping) of affections is a bit too convenient.  Also, how do we go from "woe is me, nobody loves Mary" to "everybody loves Mary, nobody loves Cass"?  If Harry has always loved Mary-- in his way-- why does he not speak for her after her mother dies?  (Did I miss/forget an explanation?)  He does eventually-- but why not right away?  It's strange.

--  I was kind of hoping that Cass would end up with Jed (and their adopted son, Jacob) and Mary would eventually realize that she loved poor old Harry (after he proved himself to her in some way, if only by sticking with her through adversity).  But no, that would've been too easy.  Mary had to be obsessed with the ocean instead.  *sigh*  (What can I say?  I'm a terribly boring person who likes happy endings.)

--  While they wait outside the first village, after the breach, someone (Cass or Mary?) says/thinks, "Everyone we have ever known, the only place we have ever been, every possession: gone."  ...But how is that possible?  Many were on platforms.  Shouldn't most of those people still be alive?

--  Whoever was in charge of the safety platform system didn't do much of a job!  Sounds like there may not have been sufficient room-- and then there's the whole issue of people pulling up the ladders too soon, leaving neighbors behind to die.  Some of that would happen, I'm sure, but this seems excessive, what with all their so-called planning and drilling.

--  We learn that the children of the village are trained in the use of weapons, but it doesn't seem like many of the villagers knew how to defend themselves.  Harry can barely aim an arrow.  All those villagers should have had weapons in their homes-- or at least on the platforms-- and begun killing the Unconsecrated at once.

For that matter, it doesn't seem like the village's defense team was working hard enough at killing the zombies around the fence.  Ok, it's an endless job, but good grief!  You make an effort.  That's a problem I had throughout this book.  It felt like the author saw potential "issues" with the world she'd built and tried to explain why this or that was as it was-- the lack of knowledge of their own history, for instance-- but the explanations just didn't satisfy me.  Maybe this is more a problem with me than with the book.  

--  A flawed protagonist is supposed to be a good thing, but Mary is so frustrating!  She's downright obnoxious, at times.  (Bluntly announcing that Beth is dying, for instance, instead of finding a humane way to address the problem.) Then there are the times when she's just borderline psychotic.  (Swaddling and holding a zombie baby.  Rolling around in the mud and screaming at the zombies.  Blathering on and on and ON about the ocean.) 

--  There is a lot of chin-grabbing in this book.  It's kind of funny after a while.

--  While they're in Village XIV, why don't they at least try to kill off the zombies?  (They have tons of weapons, including bows and arrows.  And don't tell me there are too many zombies for it to make a difference.  Good grief, people!  One dead zombie is one zombie less to eat your brains!  Come on!  It's worth a try!)  Why don't they at least try to figure out a way to get everyone in the same place (and then a way to leave the village, if necessary) before it's so urgent that there's no choice but to act immediately?  Why don't they fortify the door with furniture or something?  Oh my gosh!  It's just so, so, SO annoying.  (These characters are too passive to survive the zombocalypse.)

--  When Travis is dead, Mary "whimpers" that she loooooved him.  "He was everything.  Why couldn't I see that he was everything?"  ARGHLGRRHGLE!!! *sigh*

--  How are these fenced paths still clear enough for them to easily walk?  Most of them have not been "kept up" by people for years and years, right?  Maybe in some places it would be fine and passable for generations.  Other places, I think it wouldn't be so simple.  There would be significant brush in the way, if nothing else.

--  "I wonder for a moment what my life would have been like if I had never held Harry's hand under the water that day.  If I had finished the laundry on time, joined my mother on the hill while she looked for my father.  Kept her from straying too close to the fences and getting infected.  I never would have joined the Sisters, I never would have fallen in love with Travis or met Gabrielle.  I never would have learned their secrets and pined for a life outside the fences.  I would have married Harry; our children would have grown up knowing Cass and Travis' children, Jed and Beth's."

...Well, not really.  Gabrielle still would've come.  The Sisters probably would still have sent her out to the zombies, and so the breach still would've happened.  If we're supposed to believe that everyone in the village confines is died, then Mary and her pals all would've died, too.  So, no.  No happily ever after that way, either.

--  Mary considers that if she'd gone with Harry, she "could have been content.  Maybe even happy.  But fulfilled?"  Is Mary supposed to be some sort of post-apocalyptic feminist heroine, seeking some mythical, probably non-existent "fulfillment"?  I'm not a fan.  I mean, don't get me wrong-- I think women have as much right as men to choose their lot in life.  It's just... How will finding the ocean "fulfill" Mary more than building a "content", "even happy", normal life with Harry?  (Well, as normal as it can be when he's the brother of her now-dead lover-boy... So, not very normal.)  Anyway, it's just... utterly annoying that Mary's driving passion throughout the entire book-- oh, except for that part when all she wants is Travis, which ends as soon as she has him-- is THE OCEAN.  What does she plan to do when she gets there?  No clue.  But she has to see it.  And it can't wait until her companions are safely settled somewhere, or something.  Nope.  She's gonna see that darn ocean, no matter what happens to her brother, her best friend from childhood, and the boy who has loved her forever.  *eyeroll*  What a wonderful, strong person. 

--  So is Jed dead?  I guess so?

--  "For a while I let the water push and pull me, lift me, hold me as I fall.  I watch the sky, the clouds, the sun, the birds darting overhead.  I wait for peace and happiness but can only think of Travis and Harry and Cass and Jacob.  About how I have lost everything but this place.  I try to think about Jed, shame holding me back from remembering how he came after me.  How he died saving me.  But a part of me also thinks he could be proud that I made it, that I survived.  That he knew what he was doing when he stormed into that Forest after me."  ...Well, it's alright, then.

--  So.  Mary goes swimming in water that is soon becoming littered with chopped up zombies.  (Yuck.)  And then she goes back to the lighthouse home of the new guy (unknown name and age).  ...Hm.  Well, it was certainly worth the journey!  ;oP

-- And with that... blah. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pat of Silver Bush

Pat of Silver Bush
by L.M. Montgomery

Publisher's Blurb:
Patricia Gardiner loved Silver Bush more than anything else in the world. She was born and raised in the beautiful old-fashioned house on Prince Edward Island, "where things always seemed the same" and good things never changed. But things do change at Silver Bush--from her first day at school to the arrival of her new own first romance. Through it all, Pat shares her experiences with her beloved friends and discovers the one thing that truly never changes: the beauty and peace she will always find at Silver Bush--the house that remembers her whole life.

My Reaction:
It's been years since my last re-read of Pat of Silver Bush.  (I'm not sure when that was, exactly...)  I clearly remembered certain episodes and aspects of the book, but others had grown dim.  As for the book as a whole... I think I sympathize less with Pat now than I did as a teenager.  Her obsession with Silver Bush and the intensity of her hatred of all change-- always a bit strange-- seemed even stranger on this read-through.  The book still holds a place in my heart-- particularly Jingle/Hilary and McGinty and Judy-- but it's not quite the same...

I'd still recommend it, but only after the Anne and Emily series.   If you love those, Pat is worth reading-- but if not, I doubt Pat will be to your liking, either.

Specific Reactions (with LOTS of SPOILERS):
--  This was published in 1933.

--  "'The girls in school are nice but I don't love any of them.  I don't want to love any one or anything but my own family and Silver Bush.'"  To say that Pat is insular doesn't put it strongly enough.  That level of desire for isolation feels strange in a child, imho.  I understand shyness-- but such a young person not wanting to "love any one or anything" but your own family and family home... It's just weird!  I can understand older characters being sad about the passage of time and some of the less pleasant changes that time brings-- but it feels wrong for a child to be afraid of "happy" changes, like the marriage of an aunt or the impending arrival of a baby. 

--  Pat and Jingle "build a bridge of stones" over Jordan (a brook) for ease of crossing.  It can't have taken them long, because they've just had lunch (if I remember correctly) and afterward still have time for "an afternoon of prowling and rambling"-- and yet it's still standing ten years later!  (Unless they rebuilt it, at some point...)  Anyway, I've always wondered how one goes about building a bridge of that sort-- and what the bridge would have looked like.  Admittedly, I don't know much about engineering, but it seems tricky.  Two kids building a sturdy little footbridge is amazing.

--  Though his early obsession with houses is perhaps a bit too precocious, Jingle/Hilary is one of Montgomery's best, most loveable heroes (not that that's saying much).  ...Which makes it all the more frustrating that Pat suffers the typical, stubborn blindness where he's concerned. 

--  "'Uncle Lawrence doesn't mind McGinty but he laughs at him and McGinty can't bear to be laughed at.'  'Dog's don't,' said Pat knowingly, out of her extensive acquaintance of three dogs."  ...Well, I've never noticed dogs not liking to be laughed at, in general... Maybe if you laugh particularly rudely or cruelly, the smarter dogs might notice, but just a friendly laugh at their antics?  They're more likely to get excited and happy than to seem hurt.  (And I've known more than three dogs, so I'm an expert.)

--  I don't care for Sid (including his name).

--  "Judy began to talk of getting ready to hook a big crumb-cloth for the dining room, a bigger one than Aunt Judith's of which she was so proud."  Sounds like a crumb-cloth is just a rug that goes under the table.  I wish we had pictures of some of the things mentioned in these old books... Judy's rugs, for instance...

--  The ethereal quality of Pat's nearly-always-absent Mother has been discussed-- but it's still striking.  Pat is the only of Montgomery's "big 3" heroines to not be an orphan.  Both parents are living-- and they are present in the book-- but I so much prefer Judy to Pat's mother that it comes as a shock when some Great Tragedy sends Pat running home from school:  "Oh, to get home to mother... mother now, not Judy.  Judy did for little griefs but for this, only mother..."  ...It's just that Judy feels more like Pat's mother than her mother does!

-- On that topic... I know some people hate Judy's bizarre dialect, but I actually love it.  It may not be remotely realistic, but I can hear her in my head when I read-- I'm even coming to be comfortable with the the "oh, oh"-- and... she's cozy.

--  When Pat comes home from a visit and discovers that her father has shaved off his moustache, he has to promise to let it grow back before she'll stop crying.  Eventually she gets used to his new look and doesn't hold him to the promise, but that's still simply ridiculous.  What a terribly spoiled child!

--  A cat falls down the well.  He survives and is rescued-- but Judy says they'll have to drag water from Jordan (the nearby stream) until they can have the well cleaned.  Which leads me to wonder a couple of things.  First, how does one clean a well?  Second, would brook water really be safer than water from a well that a cat merely fell into?  It's not like the cat was dead in the well.... Just wondering.

--  At one point, Pat's mother waits for word from Mr. Gardiner regarding his decision to either move the family out west or stay where they are.  She clearly wants very much to stay on P.E.I., but intends to follow her husband's decision-- whatever it might be-- without demur.  The situation reminded me of Mrs. Ingalls and the girls following Pa out further and further onto the unpopulated prairies.  Ma would rather have stayed closer to home and family, I'm sure, but she went wherever Pa wanted, because he was the Head of the Family.  Talk about different times!  I'm fairly traditional, but I'm glad there's more a of a partnership, these days.  I want to have some say in where I live.  Shockingly modern.  ;o)

--  "Jingle was always on the lookout for windows.  They had a peculiar fascination for him.  He averred that the windows of a house made or marred it."   Well, windows are the eyes of a house-- and the eyes are the windows to the soul-- so obviously they're vital to the expression and attitude of a building.

--  "Mr. Gordon Keys at the bridge keeps his wife in order by crocheting lace whenever she won't do as he says.  She hates to see him do it and so she gives in."  ...Have to agree with the wife on that one...  Sorry, male crocheters of lace!

-- "'I'm clane missing me guess if he don't be in Parliamint be the time he's a bit bald.  Ye're not nading inny great intilligence for that.'"  So true. 

--  Judy and Pat discuss what Pat remembers of "the Great War"-- and at the end of the conversation, Judy says "it's all over now, and I'm hoping the world will have more sinse than iver to get in a mess like the same agin, more be token that the women can be voting"--  because of course LMM didn't know in 1933 that WWII was less than a decade away...  The conversation made me wonder what age Pat and Hilary would be at the beginning and end of WWII.  Pat was 5 when the armistice was signed (1918), so that would make her about 26 in 1939 and 32 in 1945.  Hilary is two years older than Pat, so he'd be 28 and 34...

--  "'They don't call them billets-doux now, Judy,' she said, gravely.  'They call them mash notes.'  'They would that.  The uglier the better nowadays.'"  Amen to that.  Only, can you imagine what poor Judy (or my own great-grandmother) would've thought of "sexting" and the like?  ...Probably best not to imagine!

--  By the time I was the age Pat is when Bets dies (not sure of the exact number), I don't think I had a "best friend" anymore.  Certainly not a friend as close as that.  It would've shaken and pained me to lose any of my high school friends, but I wouldn't have been so utterly devastated, because we simply weren't that close...  My best-friendships with other girls were mostly an elementary-school thing, fading during the middle-school years.  Is that a sign of changing times or more just a difference in personality and circumstance?

--  "'As for me poor Lester, they tell me he's rale down-hearted now that his temper fit do be over.  I'm afraid it's ye that do be the deluthering cratur, Patsy.  He did be thinking ye were rale fond av him.'"  I can usually understand Judy perfectly, but "deluthering" has me stumped!

--  There's a reference to "Victorian monstrosities with towers and cupolas"-- and we learn that young Pat hates bay windows.  Hmph.  I like bay windows-- and I would be so excited to live in a Victorian monstrosity with a tower and cupola! 

-- "Children ran about the grounds like small roses."  ...Okay...  Odd turn of phrase!

--  Some of the things those elderly "uncles" and "cousins" (not really relatives) say to Pat!  It's bad enough when her elderly great-great aunts criticize her looks to her face, when she's a child-- but Pat's eighteen by the end of the book, and these old men are still vocally appraising her beauty or lack thereof-- or saying they'll "take her if she liked".  Yuck.  Talk of dirty old men!

-- I love the beautiful descriptions of the landscape and home life.  Though there are charming descriptions of all seasons in this book, Pat and "her" books always feel like autumn to me-- and seeing as autumn is my very, very favorite, that's a compliment.  ;o) 

--  I don't think I'll be reading Mistress Pat soon.  I remember that it's much darker than Pat of Silver Bush-- and that's dark enough!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Queen Lucia

Queen Lucia 
by E.F. Benson

Blurb (from Kirkus):
Queen Lucia, the first in the series, follows Mrs. Lucas (Lucia to her most intimate friends) through a lengthy and often hilarious campaign to derail the career of a would-be rival to the throne of cultural arbiter. The plot, however, is less important than the pratfalls.

My Reaction:
(This was a shared read with Donald, so there aren't any specific notes.)

This was my first time re-reading a Lucia book since my first read-through, several years ago.  I had (have) only vague memories of "what happened when" in the series-- and apparently I've forgotten at least some of it almost entirely-- so it was next-best-thing to reading it for the first time.  Also, there was the extra fun of sharing the laughs with someone, which is the best way to enjoy humorous novels, I think.

Altogether, I think it was a success.  I certainly enjoyed the re-reading (even more than the first time around, I think), and Donald was laughing, too-- always a good sign.  Benson excels at comedy of manners.  The characters and their silly (usually petty) human behavior are the book.  The plot is episodic and is merely there to showcase the stars-- Lucia and company. 

I've seen the Lucia books compared to the works of P.G. Wodehouse, which is perhaps setting readers up for disappointment.  True, they're both British humor, but in atmosphere, they're very different.

Wodehouse's worlds always seem sparkling and happy to me.  His strength is glittering, brilliant delivery and convoluted plots that you just know will work out (amazingly, unrealistically) in the end.  Lucia's world is more grounded in reality, though the characters' foibles are exaggerated and put on proud display.  Oftentimes, you may not particularly like Lucia and her "friends", but you love reading about them.  On the other hand, you always sympathize with poor Wooster. (Yes, I'm reducing Wodehouse's canon to Wooster.  See if you can stop me!) While Wooster's aunts insult him (outrageously and hilariously) to his very face, Benson's crew is more likely to smile disingenuously and give a back-handed compliment-- or gossip wickedly behind your back.  They're rather cut-throat, in a very restrained, respectable way.  Both are wonderful reads, but not that similar in tone and style.

...Well, anyway, as I was saying...
A thoroughly enjoyable read!   I'm looking forward to the next one (whenever we get around to it).