I read a lot more holiday-related books last year than I did this year, but by the time I was ready to review them, it was January and it felt a little late to post these reviews. So, I’m doing this all at once, reviewing my sole Christmas read of 2011 (which was a disappointment) and last year’s reading (much better!) If you’re looking for a last minute holiday read, maybe these books will inspire you; if not, you can take a look to holidays-related posts for plenty more reviews and suggestions!
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The Christmas Wedding by James Patterson
Pages : 266
Genre : Fiction, Holiday
My Rating :
What it’s about : Gaby has a huge surprise for her kids : she is getting married on this Christmas, to one of the three men in her life – but they won’t know who until the big day! But for Gaby, this special day is also the occasion to celebrate with all of her family again, for the first time since her husband passed away five years ago.
My Thoughts : The Christmas Wedding was meant to be a cute story focused on family, and of course the mystery of Gaby’s wedding. And while I imagine it would make a good movie, the story felt a little rushed for me. There were many characters, each with their story lines, and in the end I felt like I never connected and only got a glimpse of their lives. I was also more interested by Gaby’s children than by the wedding mystery! It wasn’t bad, and for a holiday read, it was quick and had a little heart. So while I wouldn’t exactly recommend it as a must-read, I would say borrowing it is a safe bet if you’re not too sure about it either.
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The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore
Pages : 306
Genre : Fiction, Fantasy, Holiday, Zombies!
My Rating :
From the book’s cover : ‘Twas the night (okay, more like the week) before Christmas, and all through the tiny community of Pine Cove, California, people are busy buying, wrapping, packing, and generally getting into the holiday spirit. But not everybody is feeling the joy. Little Joshua Barker is in desperate need of a holiday miracle. No, he’s not on his deathbed; no, his dog hasn’t run away from home. But Josh is sure that he saw Santa take a shovel to the head, and now the seven-year-old has only one prayer: Please, Santa, come back from the dead. But hold on! There’s an angel waiting in the wings. (Wings, get it?) It’s none other than the Archangel Raziel come to Earth seeking a small child with a wish that needs granting. Unfortunately, our angel’s not sporting the brightest halo in the bunch, and before you can say “Kris Kringle,” he’s botched his sacred mission and sent the residents of Pine Cove headlong into Christmas chaos, culminating in the most hilarious and horrifying holiday party the town has ever seen.
My Thoughts : There’s no way I could have summarized this book in my words in such a perfect way! Because the book’s summary not only tells you what this fantastic novel is about, it also gives you a great idea of Moore’s voice and humor. The author definitely has a special brand or writing and humor, and I can see now why his books are so popular. The Stupidest Angel is not a cute Christmas tale, nor is it all fluffy and sentimental. It takes the magic of Christmas and turns it on its head, replacing it with silliness and zombies. It’s different, and funny, and while not something everyone would enjoy, it is something that those looking for a different kind of holiday reading will appreciate. The tagline, A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror, really says it all!
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Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris
Pages : 166
Genre : Non-Fiction, Short Stories
My Rating :
What it’s about : A collection of short non-fiction stories, of the author’s personal experiences with the holidays.
My Thoughts : Without a doubt, the star of this too short book is the first essay, SantaLand Diaries, describing with great humor Sedaris’ life as an elf for Macy’s Santa. It was entertaining and memorable and sometimes heartbreaking – which I cannot say of the following stories, I have to sadly say. There are other interesting stories, but the first one is by far the best. Reading this book made me realize one thing though; I’m not sure I’m a Sedaris fan. I remember reading him a while ago and I thought I enjoyed it, but reading Holidays on Ice was a roller-coaster; I sometimes couldn’t let go of the book, and sometimes just couldn’t bother picking it up again. So overall, not great, but really not bad either; certainly worth a try!
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Home in Time for Christmas by Heather Graham
Pages : 285
Genre : Romance, Time-Travel, Historical Fiction
My Rating :
What it’s about : Melody is driving home for Christmas when a man suddenly appears in front of her car, all dressed in what looks like a Revolutionary War-era costume. It’s too late to avoid him, and Melody hits him. When Jakes insists he’s from another time, Melody is sure she hit him a little too hard on the head. Feeling guilty, she brings him home to her parents as a friend, just in time for a very unique Christmas.
My Thoughts : At some point in my blogging life, I’ll have to actually come out of my denial and admit that I do, sometimes, enjoy the occasional romance. I certainly enjoyed this one!
It had the Christmas magic mixed in with the additional time-travel magic. Melody was actually likable and, for a book that was mostly light fun, I was surprised by the fact that she wasn’t too cardboard-like. I like the other characters, too, and the story would make an excellent Christmas movie! It’s sweet, but not excessively sweet, more on the side of romantic-comedy than comedy-comedy, which is probably why I liked it so. I also appreciated the historical aspect.
From the book’s jacket :
Annah lives with a lot of regrets : the first is when she left her sister behind in the forest, never to be seen again. The second is the morning her friend Elias left to become a Recruiter, three years ago. Every day she hopes to see them again, and every day her despair grows.
When life brings back in her life the ones she had lost, with a new friend on top, Annah hopes things can get back to the way they were, despite the Horde advancing towards her dark city. But having spend those years apart, fighting for their lives or trying to find their way home, not everything is as it used to be, and Annah has to face that things will never be the same.
My Thoughts :
Having enjoyed the first two books of this zombie-fest post-apocalyptic trilogy, I was waiting with some excitement to read this last installment. Not only this book had, like its predecessors, a fantastic title, it also promised to give me the answers I had been hoping for. I was looking forward to seeing again Elias, Catcher and Gabry, and to get to know what happened to Annah.
Ryan’s writing was as fantastic as before. I love how her words give us an intimate look into her main character’s thoughts, leaving nothing out, the good and the bad. Annah was certainly a troubled young woman, living in dark times with a terrible weight on her shoulders. From the first few pages, her guilt is heavy, haunting her every word and every move. She is stuck both in the dark city and in that moment of her life, unable to break from her mold.
When she finally does, she comes across her sister and there the story really begins. I was so curious to see how the two sisters would interact together after all those years and there again, the other delivered in portraying the complexity of their relationship.
However, I found the story itself extremely slow. So much so that it took me long to finish the book – or so it felt like. Ryan has a very quiet type of writing, which I enjoy, but this time around I just wasn’t gripped by the story like I had been before. Something was lacking, and sadly I would have a hard time pointing out what, exactly, was needed.
This being said, I’m very lonely in my camp! Most reviews I have read were extremely positives, raving about the book and often choosing it as the best of the series. It’s possible I just read it at the wrong time, but in any case, it was still a really good novel I could recommend to fans of the series. If you love the genre, then you need to grab the first book and start reading. 🙂
Series Reading Order :
Aftertime by Sophie Littlefield
Pages : 375
Genre : Post-Apocalyptic
Series : Aftertime, Book 1
My Rating :
What it’s about :
After bio-terrorist attacks destroyed important parts of the ecosystem, the government’s plan to make it better failed by turning people into Beaters, creatures who yearn for human flesh. Extremely dangerous, the new disease has left many more dead than alive and forced the survivors to fight for the smallest necessities.
Waking up from a traumatic event with a blurred memory of the recent past, Cass knows only one thing for sure : she has to go back to her daughter Ruthie. Fighting the zombies that took over her world and people’s fear of outsiders, Cass also has her own secrets, one in particular that could get her the wrong kind of attention.
My Thoughts :
Let me tell you something : at the start of the year, I read some really great books that I immediately added to my “Best of 2011” list, thinking that if my reading continued on the same way, I’d have a fantastic reading year. Then school kept me busy and I thought, no problemo, I’d spend the summer reading anyway. I expected it to be full of awesome, but as it turned out, it wasn’t exactly like that.
I have read many good books this summer, even a few great ones, but Aftertime is the first to hit me this way. I loved it, I just couldn’t let go of it. Every time I finished a chapter, all I could do was read the next one. Littlefield created a fantastic character who, all the while being a kick-ass woman, also has plenty of faults. Cass’s life has never been easy, not even before this apocalyptic disease happened : victim of sexual abuse as a teen, she is now a recovering alcoholic who hasn’t made peace with her past yet. She has guilt about being a bad mother all the while wanting to be perfect for her daughter, and I found it impossible not to feel for her. She’s an intricate character that felt real, all the more important in a world ravaged by horrific creatures.
Talking of these creatures, I have to say that the author accomplished something amazing on that aspect. The Beaters aren’t the laughing stock of the story, like zombies often are : instead, they are scary as they should be. They also aren’t the only aspect of this post-apocalyptic universe on which Littlefield focuses. The world has been changed forever and the author really gives a lot of attention to what this results in for the survivors : clans are formed, things that used to be taken for granted become precious goods to be traded, life is an everyday battle with completely different rules.
Each new character Cass meets open a new door for new possible story lines, and I loved that. I don’t know when (and if) Cass will meet again the Covent’s sisters, the Rebuilders, or any of those she met along her way, but each glimpse we get of these different groups is rich with ideas. Every time Cass left some place, I had the distinct impression life continued there, and I could imagine how it was. What I mean is that, even though we’re reading Cass’s story, it didn’t feel like the whole world revolved around her, you know? The author does a great job of describing her world in a realistic manner, making Cass’s story a frightening yet captivating one.
I can’t finish this review without mentioning Smoke, of course. Smoke is the mysterious hot stranger who accompanies Cass for most of her journey. He has secrets of his own, doesn’t reveal too much about himself, but him and Cass, they worked well. I believed it. More than that, I loved that while he is very present through the pages, he isn’t Cass’s main concern. They care for each other but it’s a slow, careful fall. They can be intense and the attraction is there, but Cass doesn’t lose focus from her sole objective : get Ruthie back.
I can’t say enough good things about this book! While it doesn’t reinvent the post-apocalyptic genre or the zombies-type creatures, it definitely exploits these things beautifully to explore the complexity of the human character. If like me you love dystopian universes, post-apocalyptic stories or zombies, then this is one to read. I can’t wait to see what’s next for these characters – I have a feeling I’ll have my nose in book 2 before long!
Series Reading Order :
- Horizon (coming January 24th, 2012)
Novella : Survivors, Aftertime 1.5.
Die for Me by Amy Plum
Pages : 352
Genre : YA, Paranormal, Zombies (kinda)
Series : Revenants, Book 1
My Rating :
What it’s about :
After their parents die unexpectedly in an accident, Kate and her sister move to Paris to live with their grandparents. All Kate wants is to take some alone time to live her grief and get to a better place, mainly by walking the streets of Paris and reading in cafés.
Then Kate meets Vincent and everything changes. Vincent is beautiful and charming, but he also is a mystery. When strange things begin happening, Kate confronts Vincent and she has to make a choice : stay safe, or take a chance with him.
My Thoughts :
Die for Me surprised me pleasantly. From the synopsis it sounds like pretty much any other paranormal romance currently on the YA market. And in part, it is : there’s a paranormal creature, love at almost first sight, a mystery. But somehow, Amy Plus took the formula and made it a fresh, surprising story.
I have to say, setting the story in beautiful Paris doesn’t hurt; while the author doesn’t drown the reader in details, she gives you just enough to imagine the streets and the buildings, creating a perfect escape through the pages. Also, I loved that she didn’t go for the classic, cliché, touristy French references, but instead described the city more from the point of view of someone living there. It made sense with the story, and was different on that aspect from most books.
I really enjoyed how close Kate was with her sister. They fought like sisters but confided in each other like best friends.They were there for each other when it mattered, too. Their grandparents were lovely, maybe not as present as I would have imagined them to be, but still not totally absent either. It made sense though that they would trust Kate, as she is more of the quiet, lonely kind who prefers to spend her days reading in cafés than party all night in clubs.
On the paranormal side, I loved the idea of “revenants”. They’re kind of a mix between zombie (back from the dead), vampire (coma-like sleep and other things), and guardian angel. The battle between “good and evil” was interesting, and though it wasn’t as nuanced as I would have hoped, it created an interesting setting for the characters. Apart from Kate, her sister and Vincent, there’s a whole group of revenants with distinct personalities and stories. I would have loved to learn more about some of them, but I’m sure the author kept some in store for the next books, which is just perfect!
I think the only thing taking away from my enjoyment a little, was the romance itself. Except from Vincent’s gorgeousness, it was difficult to see what Kate liked so much about him. Their chemistry wasn’t that obvious to me. Plus, Kate-in-love felt a lot more ordinary to me than regular Kate. I’m hoping that, without necessarily setting the romance aside, Kate will have more chances to develop her own individual story in the coming books.
In the end, I do believe that fans of YA paranormal romance will enjoy this one; with its French setting and original creature, Die for Me is great entertainment that I read almost in one setting (I blame the cat for picking that day to escape through the back door!)
Reading Order :
- Die for Me
- Until I Die (coming 2012)
Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen
Pages : 241
Genre : Horror, Humor
Series : Living with the Dead, Book 1
My Rating :
What it’s about :
David and Sarah’s relationship has had more downs than ups recently. As they head to their marriage counseling session, the couple face what could be the biggest “down” of their marriage : they find their counselor eating the previous client with determination. It’s the zombie apocalypse, and David and Sarah only have each other to count on. Can they salvage their relationship enough to survive?
My Thoughts :
Think of this as your classic zombie movie, on paper : there are gory scenes of zombie killing, running, fear, empty streets, and a touch of humor to balance the horror.
While the book brings little originality to the zombie archetype, it offers an interesting dynamic with David and Sarah’s relationship. Those two are bickering like you would expect a dysfunctional old couple to, even about the littlest things. The relationship is written with humor, which makes it enjoyable to follow through the story. It’s pretty clear early in the story that they’ll have to be a united front to survive the zombies, and watching them reconcile was a pleasant ride anyway. I love that they talked about their relationship without going too far in the romance type.
Their adventure is filled with action. The book doesn’t stay in one place long, and while I found most “twists” to be predictable, it kind of went in the same direction as a zombie movie would. You know, the moment in a movie when you just know a zombie is about to appear, and yet you still jump on your seat when it does? That’s what I mean. I also enjoyed that they encounter other survivors, who take different approaches to their new apocalyptic life. The story was constantly holding my interest because there was always something, or someone, happening.
As for the humor, I did have a couple of laughs. I enjoy simple things in life, and so the fact that each chapter is titled with an advice that could be quoted from “Fighting Zombies for the Married Dummies” cracked me up. Here are a couple of examples :
Chapter 3 : Put the small stuff into perspective. It’s better to be wrong and alive than right but eating brains.
Chapter 6 : You and your partner are on the same side. It’s the side of the living.
Without spoiling anything, I will say two things about the story : I enjoyed the cult plot and wished it could have lasted a little longer, because I could imagine so many story lines coming out of this. Also, the ending was a good mix of everything the characters went through in the book, but I loved to see how far David and Sarah had come.
All in all, a good read for these moments when you want a brainless (ha!) read with not too many surprises, but still entertaining.
Series reading order :
- Married with Zombies
- Flip this Zombie
- Eat, Slay, Love (coming August 2011)
The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan
Pages : 404
Genre : YA, Post-Apocalypse
Companion to The Forest of Hands and Teeth
My Rating :
From the Back of the Book :
Gabry lives a quiet life, secure in her town next to the sea and behind the Barrier. She’s content to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse. Home is all she’s ever known, and all she needs for happiness.
But life after the Return is never safe, and there are threats even the Barrier can’t hold back. Gabry’s mother thought she left her secrets behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, but like the dead in their world, secrets don’t stay buried. And now, Gabry’s world is crumbling.
One night beyond the Barrier… One reckless moment, and half of Gabry’s generation is dead, the other half imprisoned. Gabry knows only one thing: if she is to have any hope of a future, she must face the forest of her mother’s past.
I didn’t think I would, but I loved this book even more than I loved The Forest of Hands and Teeth.
First, I have to say that Gabry is, in my opinion, a much stronger heroine than Mary is in the previous book. Her personality didn’t irritated me like Mary’s and made me care a lot more for her and her story. She is, especially on the long run, less selfish in her decisions and spends a lot of time thinking of her actions and their consequences – maybe too much in parts, and the book did slow down a bit at those times, but I personally appreciated that the narration wasn’t focused only on the action.
Another strong point of the novel is that we get to learn more about how the society functions. While the previous book kept us mostly isolated, The Dead-Tossed Waves gives us more information on what happened and how life is forever changed. Some questions are answered and new ones are asked, giving more substance to the setting. Add to dad captivating story and a new love triangle, and you have in your hands a great zombie-filled novel!
Even though The Dead-Tossed Waves is presented like a companion novel rather than a sequel, I wouldn’t advise on reading them out of order. Not only because the second book takes place later in time, but also because I believe the reader’s experience is better in this order, too. We learn so much more in the second book that reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth last would make it less enjoyable, I think. Also, the second book contains a few spoilers on what happened to Mary in the first one.
This book was an extraordinary adventure ; passionate, scary, and intriguing. I cannot wait to see what Ryan has in store for us in the next book!
Series Reading Order :
- The Forest of Hands and Teeth
- The Dead-Tossed Waves
- The Dark and Hollow Places (spring 2011)