When the man comes around

Holla, readers! Where have I been, you ask? Why, I’ve been lurking in the darker corners of the internet, hoarding all of the Vikings gifs I can get my greedy little hands on. It’s been a very productive fortnight. My entire hard-drive now consists of variations of this:

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I regret nothing. YOLO and so on.

Ahem.

This week I’m reviewing White Horse by Alex Adams.

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Try to look at that cover and not imagine an ornery Gandalf the White stamping his foot and shouting “Shadowfax, come back here at once! We’ve got to go find the Sex God of Rohan and then ride to the rescue everyone at Helm’s Deep! Shadowfax, DID YOU HEAR ME? Bad mearh*! No oats for you!”

No? It’s only me? Okay then.

Here’s the deal: Zoe is thirty years old, working as a cleaner at Pope Pharmaceuticals. It’s not a perfect job, but it pays the bills. Life goes on, tugging Zoe along with it, and for a while, she walks that ideal line separating awesome from awful. Her biggest problem is figuring out a way to get out of her sister’s dinner party… until the jar appears. She arrives home from work one morning to discover that someone has broken into her apartment. Except instead of finding anything gone, Zoe finds something that has been left, something that wasn’t there before. An opaque, stone-coloured jar that looks old, ancient, even, like something that belongs in a museum. She tries to understand why the jar terrifies her, and why she can’t bring herself to open it, but even the help of charismatic (and kind of hot) therapist, Dr. Nick Rose, isn’t enough to convince Zoe that something is about to go horribly wrong. Then, as though some sort of switch has been flipped, everything goes straight to hell. People start getting sick, sick people start dying, and the people who are left stop acting like people. The world is ending, and all Zoe can do is run.

Phew.

This book was INTENSE. Because I am incapable of ambivalence, I loved it, even though it wasn’t perfect. Let’s start with the good. No, let’s call it great, because when this book was good, it was hella good. First, the subject matter. I am a sucker for anything apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic, maybe because I know that it is only in a Mad-Maxian dystopia populated by creatively-costumed bikers with a thirst for vengeance that I will truly shine, reigning as a blood-thirsty and merciless warlady known for a strict adherence to lex talionis justice and favouring creative epithets. Wait, did I lose you there? Sorry. I tend to get carried away once I get started on my post-apoc plans – er, I mean, fantasies. Yes, fantasies.

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Sooo. Where were we? Oh, right, the good stuff. The structure of the book was brilliantly done. Going back and forth from the past, before the apocalypse, or then, to the present, now, the split heightened the suspense to an almost unbearable degree. It also caused me to lose several nights of sleep while I devoured the book like a kid reading Harry Potter for the first time. The unusual structure not only increased the narrative force of the numerous mysteries at the centre of the novel, it also emphasized the true extent of society’s deterioration following the pandemic that effectively ends the world. Very well done, Ms. Adams.

I also loved the writing. I’ve read some internet comments that critiqued the abundant use of metaphors and similes, but I actually found the writing quite beautiful and engaging. The use of rhetorical devices never drew me out of the story, as bad writing is wont to, but merely struck me as a stylistic choice of the author’s that, if I noticed it at all, impressed me rather than annoyed me.

And I must admit that I did like the [spoiler, maybe?] love story. I thought it was very well done, never over-shadowing the primary woman vs. post-apocalyptic world plot. Yeah, I’m a romantic. Sue me.

Now, the not so good. I didn’t really ever feel a connection to the narrator and hero of the story, Zoe. I think she could have been more fleshed out, more interesting, and less of a blank slate. That can be a problem in novels told in the first person, though, and it wasn’t a huge complaint. At least it let you project yourself into the plot, if that’s your thing. I had a bigger problem with Zoe’s – how should I put it? oh, yeah – IDIOCY. You might know by now that I am a rabid realist, even when it comes to fantasy. I need to believe, people. If, for example, a kid witnesses her father’s head getting chopped off because he didn’t realize that you should ever cross a Lannister, I am so not going to believe that she, say, jumps up and grabs her father’s sword and cuts of stupid Joffrey’s head and then live happily ever after, now, am I? No, that little girl is going to sneak away and suffer a lot and nurture a serious grudge against a long list of people while experiencing some serious PTSD. Now that is believable (and I doff my cap to you, GRRM).

Not believable is Zoe trying to adhere to some stupid pre-apocalypse code of morals (or is it ethics? I never know). No, Zoe, you don’t help people after society collapses. YOU TRAMPLE THEM INTO THE GROUND WHILE CLAWING YOUR WAY TO SURVIVAL. Duh. And that is why I will be HBIC.

I also felt the story was a bit sluggish at times. I mean, I get that you’re walking everywhere, Zoe, but can you hurry it up a little? Also, the explanation for the pandemic was either amazing or ridiculous. I still haven’t decided. One word: cats. (???) Discuss amongst yourselves. And then come back and tell me what the hell I should think.

Verdict: Read it. It’s not The Road, which is the king of all apocalypse fiction, but then again, maybe that’s a good thing because that means it will not terrify the living daylights out of you and make you want to rip out your own heart because all of the feelings are just TOO MUCH, MAN.

Best lines: Lots to choose from, but I liked: “These fringe people are smarter than the rest of us. Forced to exist on the periphery of society, they’ve developed skills suburbanized people allowed to devolve. They grow what they eat. Each member of their clan performs tasks to help the whole. While the rest of us were mourning junk food, they kept doing what their people have done for generations. Cogs in a simple, elegant machine.” (p. 206). Woo-hoo, Roma pride!!

Rating: Three and a half out of five post-apocalyptic mutant people.

Book Cat, why are you on top of the bookshelf?

In the words of your Tolkien, "A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it." In other words, I came up here because White Horse scared me and now I'm too afraid of the height to jump down. So I'm just going to lie here until you stop papping me and rescue me.

In the words of your Tolkien, “A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.” In other words, I came up here because White Horse scared me and now I’m too afraid of the height to jump down. So I’m just going to lie here until you stop papping me and rescue me.

Silly kitty. Later gators!

*Mearh is the singular of mearas, the preternaturally intelligent and strong breed of horses ridden by the kings and princes of Rohan. And I just out-nerded myself there, didn’t I?

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I don’t get mad, I get stabby. Dowton Stabby.

I know, I know. I suck. Bad blogger, bad blogger. Mea culpa and all that. Been busy, darlings. And by busy I mean so unemployed that a productive day for me now comprises solely of putting on a bra and actual, non-pajama clothes to write my Lord of the Rings fanfiction. Ha ha ha (sob).

Still, onwards and upwards, eh? And I suppose it’s not all bad. I’ve got a plan, see? I’m just going to obey my evil hairdresser and do the Secret. According to him, if I simply want a job bad enough, I will just GET ONE! Just like that! Poof, job! Can you believe it, guys? I merely haven’t wanted it enough for the past ten and half months! Who knew!

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Any-hoo.

So I guess I should blog about a book, right? That’s why you’re here. Been reading a lot, but since this started as a YA book blog, and since I’ve been pimping it out as the Best YA Book Blog Ever on my resume (oh, hi, potential employers! Hire me!), I’m going to blog a YA book today: It’s Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame.

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Groan. Well, in the words of King Harry, once more unto the breach, dear friends.

Wentworth Hall is home to the Darlingtons, one of Britain’s most respected aristocratic families. In the summer of 1912, though, not all is at it seems. Eighteen-year-old Maggie Darlington has just returned from an extended trip to France with her mother, and to her younger sister, sixteen-ear-old Lila, she has become an entirely different person. Cold and reserved, Maggie has little time for her sister, and seems to forgotten her other old friends as well, including Michael, the handsome groom who looks just like Michael Fassbender. But Maggie isn’t the only one with secrets. The new French nanny, Therese, the Darlington’s arrogant houseguests, Teddy and Jessica, and even Lord and Lady Darlington – all are hiding something, while Wentworth Hall begins to crumble with the ebbing of the Darlington fortune. Will anyone manage to keep their secret for long?

I’m so sorry. But I’m pretty sure that synopsis hurt me more than it hurt you. I had to write it, after all. Shudder.

And did you notice the tag on the cover: “And you thought there were secrets at the Abbey…”

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Yeah, I should have probably guessed what I was getting into.

Terrible. So so so terrible. Stereotypical, flat characters that were an insipid as they were ridiculous. Plodding plot that lacked any inspiration or urgency. Lazy writing (that was also too obviously historically inaccurate, even for a teen book). God, it was so terrible that I didn’t even care about the setting (and as you all know, I am a historical novel addict). The worst offense of all, of course, was that Wentworth Hall is a shameless rip-off of Downton Abbey, the world’s favourite TV series. Actually, that’s not the worst offense. The worst offense is that it’s a really terrible shameless rip-off of Downton Abbey. I mean, come on. I am a lady who admitted to writing Lord of the Rings fanfiction a few paragraphs ago. I have no problem with rip-offs.

As long as they are high-quality rip-offs.

To be honest, I wouldn’t even have finished this book if I hadn’t been reading it in the bathtub during one of my two-hour Unemployed Person baths. Usually I take a back-up book so as not to be held hostage by a book, but I thought Wentworth Hall would be a harmless little guilty-pleasure romp along the lines of the The Luxe, which I actually liked. How wrong I was, eh? So I had no choice but to keep hate-reading. And even though I finished it yesterday, I already forget most of what happened. Huzzah for wilful disrememberment (which is the new name of my autobiography, coming to a bookstore near you sometime in the next decade or two)!

Verdict: Do not read this thinking it will sate your ravenous Downton Abbey cravings now that season 3 is over. It will so not. In fact, you might have to re-watch season 1, which was the best one, to cleanse your brain. Then haul ass to the library and check out every BBC costume drama you get your dainty little gloved hands on. I highly recommend The Forsyte Saga.

And remember:

never wrong

Best line(s): “The end.” (Okay, so I don’t think that line actually appeared in the book, but you know what I mean.)

Rating: 1 out of 5 crumbling manor houses symbolizing centuries of the systemized oppression of the working class by a moneyed elite. Such pretty dresses though!

Book Cat, you’re back! Care to share your thoughts, oh furry one?

I'm too tired from playing Vikings to contribute to your trivial and inconsequential blogging endeavour right now, Librarian. Now. Where is my sword? There are mice village to be plundered!

I’m too tired from playing Vikings to contribute to your trivial and inconsequential blogging endeavour right now, Librarian. Now. Where is my sword? There are mice villages to be plundered!

Yes. It has come to this. Today, I made a little Viking helmet for my cat and then snuck up on him while he was reading the Saga of the Volsungs so I could take a series of increasingly disturbing photos to add to my collection of disturbing cat cosplay photos. And that, dear readers, is the definition of a New Low.

Until next time!