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Monday 25 January 2010

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

by Max Brooks

Take out the letter Z and put in II and you would get a perfect telling of an actual war. The zombie war hasn’t actually happened but Max Brooks does a great job of making it seem as if it has.

The war is told to us in a collection of individual stories from different people who survived it. People from all across the globe, even those in the international space station, get to tell their story of survival.

WWZ is a follow up book to The Zombie Survival Guide, also by Brooks. Brooks actually mentions the survival guide in WWZ as a book that people used to help them.

The best part about WWZ is that Brooks uses a fictional tale of zombies to make wonderful social comments about the world today. Brooks uses real life world issues to tell his story; such as a Palestinian boy living in Kuwait refusing to believe that there are zombies, thinking that it is a trick by Israel.

The story raises the question of whether there is a victory or not. The epidemic still rages in many different parts of the world, but humanity is surviving and fighting back.

Reviewed by Mollie

Sunday 17 January 2010

Remembrance Day

by Leah Fleming

This is a beautifully crafted book with a poignancy that will stay with me for a long time to come.

It begins with a narrowly avoided tragedy during a hot summer’s day in 1913, the result of which irrevocably ties two families together forever, setting in motion catastrophic twists in the futures of everyone involved.

Blacksmith’s daughter, Selma Bartley becomes involved with upper class Guy Cantrell. However their budding romance is discovered by his mother, Lady Hester, who will not let anything divert her from stopping this unsuitable young woman distracting her son from the future he has been trained to follow.

Guy’s twin brother, Angus, bearing the consequences of his high spirits, takes his chance to live life to the full and secretly replaces his recuperating brother on the battlefields in France resulting in a tragedy that will resonate through both families for decades.

The forbidden love between Selma and Guy is heartbreaking and the selfish, misguided actions of others force them apart and on to paths neither had ever anticipated following. Both strong-minded they separately deal with the blows life has given them; making choices that will take them away from everything they know.

This book is so beautifully written that once I’d started reading I found it hard to put it down, ending up losing hours in the story, which kept me riveted and wanting to know how, if at all possible, Selma and Guy could possibly resolve their differences.

The ending was satisfying. Having read so many books, I can usually guess what the outcome between characters will be, with this book however I didn’t know, which made it all the more enjoyable.

This is one of the best books I read last year and I look forward to reading Leah Fleming’s other novels.

Reviewed by Debs Carr

Saturday 9 January 2010

The Gates

By John Connolly

It seems like only weeks ago that "The Lovers", Connolly's most recent addition to the Charlie Parker series, was keeping me awake. And now Connolly is back with another hero who finds himself in conflict with something not entirely of this world.

Instead of a world-weary private eye with a couple of hit-man accomplices, Connolly gives us this time a small boy (Samuel Johnson) prone to engaging his teachers in philosophical debates about angels and pinheads, accompanied by (among others) a small dog, the captain of the school cricket team, and an exiled demon with a penchant for wine gums and fast cars.

Connolly has made previous excursions from the Charlie Parker universe, most notably "The Book of Lost Things", a melancholy, but captivating, fantasy featuring a boy hero but no more a children's book for all that than is, say, Stephen King and Peter Straub's "The Talisman".

And "The Gates", too, is not entirely a children's novel; more a novel for adults who wish that children's books had been like this when they were children. Footnotes abound (Adams and Pratchett have a lot to answer for) and serve to supply a home for all those jokes and observations that writers slap down in their notebooks in the hope that one day they will find a bottom-of-the-page use for them. Lavatory humour is almost entirely absent; one or two examples waft delicately across the pages to satisfy the younger audience - for this will, despite my saying it is not exactly a children's book, find a younger audience; those who would never knowingly open a Harry Potter and are, perhaps, growing out of Roald Dahl.

The plot is satisfyingly paced and involves a scientific malfunction opening a gateway between Hell and here (here being a small market town somewhere in England), and a resulting attempted invasion from the underworld. Some very unpleasant demons (a number almost straight from the brush of Heironymus Bosch) wreak havoc on police stations, pubs, and village ponds, while resourceful humans (mostly of the younger variety) find a number of inventive ways of postponing the seemingly inevitable.

The way is left open for sequels, and if Connolly can produce them without slowing down the narrating of Charlie Parker's life, then that is all to the good. Although never, perhaps, inspiring midnight queues outside branches of Waterstones, I can see Samuel Johnson and his dog Boswell inspiring a loyal following, a long-running series, cinema appearances and inflating prices for first editions. I shall just go and encase mine in bubble-wrap in preparation for that day - or maybe not. Books are, after all, for reading, and I am sure that this one will bear another once-over in future.

Reviewed by Mike Deller