Monday, 23 September 2013

V.M. Zito's The Return Man and Kendare Blake's Anna Dressed in Blood

I've been devouring books at a tremendous pace recently; some good, some bad.
First, the good. 

The outbreak tore the U.S. in two. The east remains a safe haven. The west has become a ravaged wilderness. They call it the Evacuated States. It is here that Henry Marco makes his living. Hired by grieving relatives, he tracks down the dead and delivers peace.
Now Homeland Security wants Marco for a mission unlike any other. He must return to California, where the apocalypse began. Where a secret is hidden. And where his own tragic past waits to punish him again.
But in the wastelands of America, you never know who - or what - is watching you.

I'm not really big on zombies, so I was in two minds about buying this... the trouble with a kindle app and Amazon's 'one-click' system is that everything is so instant and easy (Amazon, you enabler, you). I found the premise of The Return Man quite intriguing, and it had been on my Good Reads list for some time, so I downloaded the first chapter as a sample and immediately wanted to read more.
The Return Man is brutal and bloody, if the idea of zombies tearing chunks off people and eating them alive is too much for you then I suggest you move along, nothing to see here. Normally that kind of thing would turn me off a book, but it worked here and felt necessary to the world; if the zombie apocalypse comes and zombies get their hands on you they're going to eat you - them's just the facts.
I liked the main characters, and genuinely found myself rooting for them. I didn't see the end coming, though I should have done. I liked the fact that even though the zombies were there at every turn, the story wasn't about them, they were just an obstacle to be overcome on the hero's quest. And that hero, Doctor Henry Marco, isn't a superman. He never seems entirely safe, he has his faults, and he gets out of close scrapes by using his intelligence rather than possessing any remarkable strength or speed.
I enjoyed this story a great deal, in all it's brutal glory, and it's highly recommended.

I give it eight and a half zombies out of ten


Next, not the... well, bad is a bit harsh, but the dull.

Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: He kills the dead.
So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. Together they follow legends and local lore, trying to keep up with the murderous dead—keeping pesky things like the future and friends at bay.
When they arrive in a new town in search of a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas doesn't expect anything outside of the ordinary: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. She still wears the dress she wore on the day of her brutal murder in 1958: once white, now stained red and dripping with blood. Since her death, Anna has killed any and every person who has dared to step into the deserted Victorian she used to call home.
But she, for whatever reason, spares Cas's life.

I was so disappointed by this book. The title is evocative, the cover is great, and there's an endorsement from Cassandra Clare on the front, who's stories I have enjoyed ever since her fanfiction days. I so badly wanted to like this book, I was looking forward to reading something that reminded me of the early seasons of Supernatural, something dark and creepy, and it starts off strong - I loved the fifties hitchhiker of chapter one, and that chapter seduced me into buying the book. Unfortunately, I felt it went downhill from there. 
wanted to be impressed by Cas's skills, but I wasn't. I wanted to care about his friends, but I didn't. I found Carmel particularly irritating. This book just didn't hit the spot for me, mainly because of my disinterest in the characters. Cas seemed to think of himself as pretty badass, but the school bullies got the better of him several times and he never seemed to live up to the reputation he'd claimed.
I've read a lot of good reviews on this book, but honestly I only read to the end because I'd paid for the book and so I felt an obligation to finish it. I hoped there would be a twist that would redeem the story for me, but no, I finished it feeling totally underwhelmed.

I hate being harsh, but gotta say it as I see it. A measly three Annas out of ten.


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