The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
The title lured me in on this, that and the blurb on the back cover, which was rather misleading. The narrator really doesn’t seem to have any great motivation or desire to buck the system. She’s thrown into it.
Long story short, Mary and her village are the results of many generations down the line after something called the Return. The sisterhood, the religious group controlling the village, hints that scientists accidentally created the Return. They’re zombies (and I’m thinking, great I’ve managed to pick up yet another dystopia, what is it with YA and dystopia in the last few years). Mary lost her mother and her brother, Jed, blames her. Women in this culture have two choices, marry or go into the celibate sisterhood. Neither brother, Travis or Harry, speak for her, which Mary was expecting so she ends up in the sisterhood, just long enough to learn that there are villages beyond the fences that line it, keeping the Unconsecrated (the zombies) at bay. Travis, now betrothed to Cass, Mary’s best friend, is brought to the sisters, horribly injured and nearly loses his leg. Mary falls more in love with him (to the point Harry is suddenly repulsive) and she learns the Sisters are keeping secrets but before she can pursue them, Harry asks her to marry him. Before much can come of that the village’s fences fail and they are swarmed by the Unconsecrated.
The second half of the book is Harry, Travis, Mary, Cass, Jed and a young boy, Jacob, running for their lives through an impressive maze of fence-lined paths. Jeb, one of the guardians knows there is food stocked in these trails even though the Sisters tell the villagers there is nothing beyond the village. Mary is also driven by her family stories about life at the ocean before the Return and she wants to find it now.
Sounds like it could be good. It’s not. Looking at Goodreads reviews either you loved or hated this and I’m definitely didn’t love it. It has massive world building plot holes you could drive a mac truck through. The romance is one of the most wooden, forced things I’ve read in a long time and Mary is just plain unlikable. She’s selfish, thoughtless and really if one of the group didn’t make it to the end, you sort of wish it were her but since it’s first person pov…
The world building plot holes: number one, we’re generation after the Return. The zombies are just that, undead. They can’t reproduce unless thru their disease ridden bite. Even if there were millions of them, generations later, you would expect to see a drop off. There are dozens shambling along the fence all the time in this thing. Population dynamics don’t work that way. They can be destroyed. Look how long it took to wipe out the buffalo when we set our minds to it. Granted they were easier to kill than the zombies but still, after generations there shouldn’t be millions. I could overlook this plot hole thought
Number two, is much less forgivable. They actually give the bitten person, while they’re dying, the option of being beheaded/burned for a final death or to be released into the forest with the rest of the zombies and even have a series of chutes for this. What? You’re in fear of your life from the zombies. You do not add to their numbers. Ever. How stupid is this? I nearly stopped reading right here with this bit of idiocy (and since we learn about it with Mary’s mom, that’s real early on). No one would do this. Who would want their loved one shambling around until their bones are worn thru the skin and risk their villagers’ life when there was an option. No wonder there’s no drop off in zombie numbers. The villagers are stupid.
Number three, there was a plague of some kind that wiped out the babies and many of the young breeding couples. Mary even says she feels safe from the Sisterhood because of it. They need babies. Marriage isn’t about love, it’s about more babies. (or something like that, according to Mary) You aren’t going to have a celibate sisterhood in these conditions.
Number four, the whole romance. Later we learn Harry loves her and always has. So has Travis. Neither one speaks for her until after she’s in the Sisterhood. The author needed a way to have her learn about people from another village and that the Sisters kept secrets but so much of it now seems utterly contrived. It just seems ridiculous that Harry lets her get cast into the Sisterhood only to change his mind later. But of course, she had to be there so when Travis comes in hurt (and Cass isn’t there for them) we need Mary there to fall in love with him completely. Harry comes for her later, ignoring that Travis loves Mary. Mary loves Travis and Cass loves Harry. It’s like just trade already and spare us the angst but then again it all feels so force you don’t really care.
Number Five, once they get to the next village, they don’t attempt their daring escape right away after finding it filled with the Unconsecrated. No, they play house for days, weeks perhaps, until the zombies finally batter down the doors and swarm in, leading us to the inevitable will they all survive. I don’t know that I care. I mean if you’re going to just laze around looking at old USA Today without even attempting escape until it’s too late, how sorry can I feel? In fact this leads to the last 50 pages where things are just so stupid that I’m sure I’ll never pick up book 2 that’ll take up where this thing just trails off into a non-ending.
A Brush of Wings – Anthology edited by Anne Regan
This anthology from Dreamspinner Press is male/male erotic romance (naturally as that’s what DSP does) with an angelic theme. Most of the stories revolve around a Judeo-Christian angel archetype unsurprisingly. There are also stories of fallen angels. Some of the sweetest ones would be with people acting like angels themselves. Some of my favorites though would have to be the couple that used guardian spirits from other cultures, like Hindu in The Tenth Avatar and ancient Roman in In the Hands of the Gods.
Some of my own favorite short stories, besides the ones I mentioned, actually aren’t the ones other reviewers have named (not that they’re bad stories by any means). I really liked A Trail of Feathers, which has a visceral feel of loneliness and desperation to it. Counterbalance that with the sheer good heart in the main character of The Archangel of Castro. Herbal Tea and The Angel Blues were a couple others I especially enjoyed.
All in all, while I’m not really much of a short story reader, I really liked this anthology. If you like m/m erotica, you’ll enjoy this.