Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

January is Outside Your Comfort Zone
Humans are some of the most adaptable creatures on the planet. There is a famous science experiment that used special glasses to invert people's vision so that everything was upside down...after 3 days, the participants began to see things right side up again. That is the case with all of these novels as well. The main characters are thrown into some horrible situations ranging from life-shattering rejection to unexpectedly falling in love, and all rise to the challenge. What are you capable of that you never believed you could do?

I finally got around to reading this...and I was pleasantly surprised. Admittedly, I have a girlish weakness for Jane Austen, and am a devoted zombie fan. I was impressed by Grahame-Smith's interpretation, and seamless introduction of zombies into an unlikely plot.

This is a different Victorian England. Recently, the land has been stricken with "unmentionables," who roam the land threatening to overtake the locals, spreading their undead curse to any unfortunate enough to fall victim to their relentless pursuit. The Bennet family has pledged their allegiance to Queen and country, and the eradication of the the "sorry stricken." Under their Chinese teacher, Master Liu, the Bennet girls are honed into Zombie killing Shaolin masters. (A purist may notice that the Chinese-trained girls are using katanas...which are a Japanese sword *tsk tsk*) Their first, and foremost task is to rid the land of the plague of zombies that threatens to take over the relative peace of their country home. Their mother, however, aspires for her daughters to be wed. It is in this light that a new neighbor is invited to dine with them, and a friendship is begun between Mr. Bingley, and the eldest Bennet daughter, Jane.

On an unaccompanied visit to the Bingley estate, Jane is fallen on by "unmentionables" in the rain. While she vanquishes the undead threat, she is stricken ill. This seems a happy stroke of luck to her mother, who insists that she stay with the Bingleys until she is recovered, and sends the second eldest, Elizabeth, to accompany her in her convalescence. Elizabeth embodies the true warrior spirit, and is distressed at the extended stay that keeps her from practicing her deadly arts. It is there that she spends her first signficant time with Mr. Bingley's close friend, Mr. Darcy - known for his skill in the deadly arts. That seems to be the only thing to recommend him, however, as he is both disagreeable and proud. She takes the first opportunity to bring Jane home, but the friendship between Mr. Bingley and Jane has already deepened. Mrs. Bennet is sure that a marriage proposal is at hand, when suddenly Mr. Bingley is to go to town...and is not expected to return. What could account for this turn of events?

Elizabeth blames the Misses Bingleys, who during her time with them prattled on and on about desiring Ms. Darcy to be destined for their brother, and Mr. Darcy, who is bound to be a bad influence. He seems to take an instant dislike to everything about their quaint country town. Anyone who would not see Jane for the angel that she is must be a fool! She only hopes that, with time, poor Jane's heart will mend.

While Jane goes to visit her Uncle and Aunt in London, she holds out hope that Mr. Bingley will call on her. Elizabeth goes to visit Mr. and Mrs. Collins, and has the misfortune of meeting Lady Catherine de Bourgh. The woman is renown for her zombie killing abilities, but seems to have no concept of common decency. She is constantly belittling Elizabeth's skill, and repeats how superior Japanese training is to Chinese. It isn't until Elizabeth is set upon by Lady Catherine's ninjas, and hastily defeats them, that she forms a grudging respect for Ms. Bennet. It is on this trip, as well, that she again meets Mr. Darcy. Could it be that she has judged him wrongly? Is his skill with a blade and musket more honorable than she first thought? And could it be that his manner has softened?

She must remember her place, as a warrior, as pledged to rid the world of the unmentionables, and forget this frivolous romance business. What will become of the Bennet girls? Austen fans are familiar with the ending, but I won't spoil it for anyone else. I recommend the audio version, read by a delightfully British woman. It adds an element that you don't get from a straight reading.
"Elizabeth and Darcy merely looked at one another in awkward silence, until the latter reached both arms around her. She was frozen- 'What does he mean to do?' she thought. But his intentions were respectable, for Darcy merely meant to retrieve his Brown Bess, which Elizabeth had affixed to her back during her walk. She remembered the lead ammunition in her pocket and offered it to him. 'Your balls, Mr. Darcy?' He reached out and closed her hand around them, and offered, 'They belong to you, Miss Bennet.'" (Grahame-Smith, 2009).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadful by Seth Grahame-Smith
Little Vampire Women by Louisa May Alcott and Lynn Messina
Jane Slayre by Charlotte Bronte and Sherri Browning Erwin

Austen, Jane and Grahame-Smith, Seth. (2009). Pride and prejudice and zombies: the classic regency romance--now with ultraviolent zombie mayhem. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books.

Austen, Jane, Grahame-Smith, Seth, and Kellgren, Katherine. (2009). Pride and Prejudice and Zombies [audiobook]. Grand Haven, MI: Brilliance Audio.

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan (Heroes of Olympus, Book 1)

Jason wakes up on a bus. He doesn't know where he is, or who he is...or who all the people are around him. Like who is the girl holding his hand? Apparently, she is his girlfriend Piper, and the guy talking his ear off is his best friend Leo. They're on a school field trip for delinquent kids to the Grand Canyon. As if that wasn't weird enough, suddenly a storm appears out of nowhere, Coach turns into a faun, one of his classmates turns into a smoke monster with wings...and apparently wants to kill them. Whoa. Rough day.

Annabeth shows up from Camp Half-Blood to explain that Piper, Leo, and Jason are half-bloods. She was hoping to find Percy (her boyfriend) who is now missing. Back at camp, things start to at least get explained - if not make sense - and it seems their presence at camp is getting some unwanted attention. Piper is having scary dreams about her dad being kidnapped, Jason keeps getting weird vibes that he shouldn't be there, Leo is accepted into the Hephasteus house...which seems to be under some curse. Chiron seems to know more than he's telling about Jason and his mysterious tattoo. In the middle of all that turmoil, Jason learns that he has a sister. How could he have forgotten that? In fact, it's Thalia (Percy Jackson fans will recognize her as one of Artemis's Hunters, and a daughter of Zeus). Another weird thing? Jason seems to remember certain things, like fighting, but no real details. He also seems to know all the Roman names for the gods...

After consulting the oracle, it's decided that Piper, Leo, and Jason must undertake a quest to rescue Hera. The circumstances of her imprisonment are sketchy, so they must consult the Wind God for help. As to be expected, there are big names along the way, emerging latent talents, unexpected cameos, and a true test of mettle for all three heroes. Leo, it seems, knows Hera as Tia Callida. He knew her as an old aunt from his childhood, and let's say they aren't exactly friendly. Piper struggles with betraying her friends to save her dad, and Jason struggles to remember who he is. Will they rescue Hera before the rise of the unknown evil?

Another fantastic story by Riordan, full of Greek and Roman god allusions, action, adventure, get the idea. I couldn't scratch the surface much deeper without giving too much away. This will be another epic series, and I can't wait for book 2.
"'Who am I?' Jason asked the she-wolf. 'At least tell me that.' Wolves don't have much of a sense of humor, but Jason could tell the question amused Lupa, as if Jason were a cub just trying out his claws, practicing to be the alpha male. You are our saving grace, as always. The she-wolf curled her lip, as if she had just made a clever joke. Do not fail, son of Jupiter," (Riordan pg. 160, 2010).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan (Heroes of Olympus, Book 2) Fall 2011
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson, Book 1)
The Atlantis Complex by Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl, Book 7)

Riordan, Rick. (2010). The Lost Hero. New York, NY: Disney-Hyperion Books.

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Claudia has been raised under Protocol. Her entire universe has been carefully constructed to resemble an age long past, with Era Court etiquette, doublets and dresses. She has been groomed to wed the Prince, and become Queen. As the daughter of the Warden of the great prison, Incarceron, she has been trained, educated, tested, and her will is steel. It is for this reason that she will ascend the throne, and overthrow Protocol. It is for this reason that she has worked feverishly with her tutor to discover Incarceron's secrets, the first of which lies in her father's study.

Incarceron is fabled to be a paradise: self-contained and self-sustaining. Its location is confidential, known only to the Warden. Only he knows the truth: Incarceron has been corrupted and has become a wasteland rife with poverty, disease, theft, and violence. Finn and his oath brother Keiro are inhabitants of the prison. Their lives are ruled by the Winglord of their Scum clan, a ruthless, greedy man who attacks other clans for profit and amusement. One day, he goes too far. A woman, Maestra, is taken Finn, who wishes to spare her life. She knows of the tattoo on his arm, the eagle, and is desperate to discover his past. She speaks of a key with the same markings. Finn is known as the Starseer, although he has no memory of his early life, he has fits and visions of Outside. He believes these are flashes of memory, and this key could be their way out.

Escaping the Comitatus with Keiro, Gildas - a Sapient who believes in Finn's visions, and Attia - a former slave, Finn begins his quest to find the door to Outside. Gildas believes they must follow the path of Sapphique, the fabled Sapient who escaped. Meanwhile, Claudia has infiltrated her father's study, and found a key identical to Finn's. With her tutor, Jared (also a Sapient), they seek to find answers...but instead find they can talk to Finn. The key enables them to communicate, and even to see each other. Claudia instantly decides that Finn is the long lost Prince Giles - thought to be dead, but instead locked in Incarceron by the Queen and her father. Could it be the answer to overthrowing Protocol, and releasing the prisoners of Incarceron? Together they work to find a way out.

Their path is fraught with outside interference. The Queen has plans of her own, and they must attempt to keep everything from the Warden. Incarceron has also discovered their goal, and will stop at nothing to prevent their success. All the while, the clock is ticking down to the date that Claudia is to marry Prince Caspar. Could Finn truly be Prince Giles? Will they discover a way to free him in time?

A fast paced fantasy thriller with great mystery elements, this is a must read. I couldn't put it down, and just as quickly devoured the sequel. Highly recommended.

"There was a man and his name was Sapphique. Where he came from is a mystery. Some say he was born of the Prison, grown from its stored components. Some say he came from Outside, because he alone of men returned there. Some say he was not a man at all, but a creature from those shining sparks lunatics see in dreams and name the stars. Some say he was a liar and a fool," (Fisher pg. 55, 2010).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Reckless by Cornelia Funke

Fisher, Catherine. (2010). Incarceron. New York, NY: Dial Books.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Imagine a world where there is no more abortion debate. Every baby gets born. The catch? Between the ages of 13 and 18, your parents or guardians can choose to unwind you. Technology has progressed to a point that "unwinds" are used for parts. Every part of them is reused for transplant surgery, to heal burn victims, to replace damaged organs and limbs. Crazy, right? But your parents would never do something like that...

That's what Conner thought too, until he found the note on his dad's desk. So he had gotten in a few fights at school, and he wasn't getting along with his family like he used to...but this? He and his girlfriend are going to run away before it happens, until she decides to stay. He's on his own. It's illegal for unwinds to run, and if he's caught, he'll be sent to harvest. His only hope is to stay hidden until he turns 18, after that he may face prison, but at least he'll be alive.

Risa is so nervous, she knows that so much is riding on this piano recital. She has practiced so hard, and even though her piece is difficult, she is confident she can pull it off. If she can just show them how talented she is, maybe she stands a chance. "Wards" - wards of the state - are always facing the possibility of unwinding. Risa's always been a good kid, but not the best. She's talented, but not a prodigy. In the end, it's not enough. "Budget cuts," they can her life be dependent on a budget? She has no choice, and she's on her way to the harvest camp.

Lev's family believes in self-sacrifice. They believe in giving their all to God. They believe that tithing shouldn't stop with money, but that they should do their part to contribute to the life saving measures in place for victims of disease and disaster. That's why Lev's celebrating...this is his Tithing Party. Tomorrow, he will go to the harvest camp as an example of God's love and sacrifice. He's grown up knowing this, and he has made his peace with it. His oldest brother is less accepting, but Lev knows this is the right thing. He's on his way to harvest camp, too...

Suddenly, Connor makes a hasty appearance into the others' lives. He causes a wreck to the transport bus that Risa is on, and grabs Lev on a whim. Risa follows thinking this may be her only chance for escape. Can this mismatched group ever find a common ground? Will they be able to find safety?

A powerful idea, built into a powerful story. Regardless of your opinion on the topic of abortion, it forces you to think about your own beliefs. At times, it may have seemed a little over the top, but then are teenagers. Rumors are that Schusterman is hoping to sell the story to Hollywood.
"'With the war getting worse,' says the Admiral, "we brokered a peace by bringing both sides to the table. Then we proposed the idea of unwinding, which would terminate unwanteds without actually ending their lives. We thought it would shock both sides into actually seeing reason - that they would stare at each other across the table and someone would blink. But nobody blinked,'" (Schusterman pg. 224, 2007).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Everlost by Neal Schusterman (Skinjacker Trilogy, Book 1) 
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (Uglies series, Book 1)

Schusterman, Neal. (2007). Unwind. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking, Book 1)

Todd lives on New World, a relatively recently colonized planet which his family chose over the chaos of the old planet...not that he knows much about his family, since his parents died shortly after he was born. Prentisstown is far from peaceful, since the whole town was infected by the Noise germ...which makes it so your thoughts can be heard by everyone around, even those thoughts you don't want anyone else to know. Another fun development is that animals can talk and hear Noise too, which isn't quite as great as you might think.

Prentisstown is the last civilization left on New World, and it's slowly dying because all the women were wiped out by the Spackle in the war. Their Noise germ killed all the women, and Todd is the youngest boy left. In less than a month, he will turn 13, and become a man...the last man. He was raised by Ben and Cillian, and was taught how to farm. The Mayor abolished books, and school, and most kinds of education because he decided it led to impure thoughts...mostly influenced by Aaron, the holy man of the town (who is pretty crazy, if you ask Todd).

One day, Todd is out in the swamp trying to get a little peace, away from all the Noise. He and his dog Manchee run into Aaron, never a pleasant encounter, but they also encounter something new - silence. A being without Noise...could it be the Spackle, back to attack again? But's a girl! Todd has never seen a female before, only pictures of them in other men's Noise, but he is sure that is what she must be.

Returning to the village, he tells Ben, who reacts by telling him he has to get out of town NOW. His bag has already been packed, and a map drawn...he is to head for the nearest settlement, but there isn't another settlement, is there? Not to mention that Todd can't really read, so a map isn't going to do much good. But Ben gives it to him with a notebook of his mother's, and so he takes it, flabbergasted, and goes. He is beginning to doubt things he always believed in. On his way, he encounters the girl and tries to talk to her with no success. Out of nowhere, Aaron shows up again, trying to harm the girl. Armed with Ben's knife, Todd lashes out, ready to kill him, ready to save her and himself, and escape the horror of Prentisstown...but he can't do it.

The two escape, and make their way to the next settlement, which does exist...and which is full of women AND men! More and more of his understanding of life is being tested, as it turns out the Spackle did not kill the women with their germ. So what happened to the Prentisstown women?

Todd and the girl (Viola) are still being pursued, and must follow the path to Haven in an attempt to find refuge and someone who can protect them. The men of Prentisstown are not who they have seemed all this time, and Todd can't really believe what he is being told. Their journey is full of hard choices, hard life lessons, learning to trust, and doing what is right in the face of what may be the smarter choice. Full of action, loyalty, and overcoming unbelieveable odds, along with a really cool concept: what would someone else hear in your Noise?
"There are a hundred Aarons at a hundred different places, all standing round me. There are Violas, too, frightened and looking to me for help, and Spackles with my knife sticking outta their chests and they're all talking at once, all talking to me in a roar of voices. 'Coward,' they're saying. All of 'em. 'Coward' over and over again. cowardcowardcowardcowardcowardcowardcoward
But I wouldn't be a Prentisstown boy if I couldn't ignore Noise. cowardcowardcowardcowardcowardcoward," (Ness pg. 326, 2008).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking, Book 2)
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Ness, Patrick. (2008). The Knife of Never Letting Go. Sommerville, MA: Candlewick Press.