Friday, August 23, 2013

Book Review: Dust by Joan Frances Turner

Title: Dust
Author: Joan Frances Turner
Genre: Horror, Zombies, YA

Publisher: Ace Hardcover
Publishing Date: September 7th 2010
Hardback: 384 pages

Stand Alone or series: Book one of the Dust series

Nine years ago, Jessie had a family. Now, she has a gang.

Nine years ago, Jessie was a vegetarian. Now, she eats very fresh meat.

Nine years ago, Jessie was in a car crash and died. Nine years ago, Jessie was human.

Now, she’s not.

After she was buried, Jessie awoke and tore through the earth to arise, reborn, as a zombie. Jessie’s gang is the Fly-by-Nights. She loves the ancient, skeletal Florian and his memories of time gone by. She’s in love with Joe, a maggot-infested corpse. They fight, hunt, dance together as one—something humans can never understand. There are dark places humans have learned to avoid, lest they run into the zombie gangs.

But now, Jessie and the Fly-by-Nights have seen new creatures in the woods—things not human and not zombie. A strange new illness has flamed up out of nowhere, causing the undeads to become more alive and the living to exist on the brink of death. As bits and pieces of the truth fall around Jessie, like the flesh off her bones, she’ll have to choose between looking away or staring down the madness—and hanging onto everything she has come to know as life…

"My right arm fell off today. Lucky for me, I'm left handed."

And with that, we are introduced to Jessie. Jessie was a normal teenage girl who had the unfortunate pleasure of dying and coming back to life. After digging her way out of her grave and wandering around the nearby woods, Jessie is initiated into the Fly-by-Nights and makes a new life for herself amongst her new family. While Jessie comes to enjoy her new life, that would make for a very boring story so we get a front row seat as Jessie's world gets turned upside down by a mysterious illness and zombies who appear to becoming human again. As Jessie tries to uncover what is happening to the people around her, she has to come to terms with her past and decide what kind of future she wants for herself.

For me, Dust is the book equivalent of having eyes bigger than your stomach. While the idea of the story had a lot of promise, Turner wasn't able to quite pull it off. The first half of the story is held together by a mysterious illness, but the second half had a little trouble finding its footing. Actually, it had a lot of trouble.

The second half of the book consists of exactly the right people showing up exactly when they need to in order to tell Jessie, and the reader, exactly what they need to know. I take issue with this. Like, ALL THE ISSUES. I also have a huge problem with the way the story is moved forward by "dreams" Jessie has with another character in the book. This is just laziness on the part of the author. Period. I don't want to read about a character being told all the secrets of the universe. I want to be shown. And to do that, the author needs to come up with plausible scenarios where that can take place. Instead, Turner creates a place in the book where she can essentially write whatever the hell she wants in order to get the ending she thinks she needs. Unfortunately, these little dream conversations were longer than they needed to be so I found them to be extremely boring and would often skip whole sections of dialogue. Another frustration I had with these endless dream scenes was the ambiguity on the part of the author. The conversations were often tinged with science fiction answers that didn't answer anything at all.

And about that ending Turner worked so hard to force on her characters, no. Just no.

The true strength of this story was the first half. Turner did a good job of making Jessie likable and I wasn't shocked by the behavior of any of the character's in Jessie's gang. The majority of complaints I could find about this book was about the fighting and hunting scenes, but they didn't bother me. I will admit I skimmed most of the gory descriptions, but that's because one bloated maggot infested zombie feeding on the entails of a live deer is like any other. Turner was able to make the brutality of Jessie and her gang seem natural in a way that I was able to easily accept. The descriptions were similar to Hater but not as disgusting. (Probably because the majority of creatures being hunted were animals.) Jessie and her gang were the type of zombies I imagined Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies would have and I thought it worked well. It's really unfortunate the rest of the story didn't have the same appeal.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:
From Chapter Two:
Nine years ago, I was alive. Nine years ago, Jessica Anne Porter was fifteen and lived in a nice house in the very well-guarded town of Lepingville, an hour out of Chicago, and got okay grades and wanted to do something someday with animal rights. Her hair was auburn dyed something brighter, I forget what. I don’t see bright colors well anymore. She had a mother, father, a sister in her first year of college, a brother in his last—neither of them could wait to get out of the house, they barely spoke to her parents. And her parents barely spoke to each other. Then one day they were in a rare good mood and took her out to dinner, and then there was the Toyota ride home.

Dad took the back roads home, the scenic tour. You weren’t supposed to do that, you were supposed to stay on the main highway with the blindingly sulfurous roadside lights (the “environmental hazards,” as we called them, you never put it more directly than that, supposedly hated bright light) and the toll booths. Each booth had a FUNDING COMMUNITY SAFETY sign so you wouldn’t throw a tantrum as you forked over your money, a sentry bearing an emergency flamethrower. See? Safety. Suck on that, you suburban cheapskates. The small, cramped booths could serve as safe houses in a pinch, if a “hazard” somehow surprised you on the road. They had to let you in, that was the law. But my dad had paid four tolls in eighteen miles just to get to the restaurant and my mom complained the road lights gave her headaches and it was a pretty night and for once nobody was screaming at each other so why not take the old road, the long way home? Rest your eyes. Have a bit of peace and quiet.

It was two miles from the county line, where the former industrial park gave way to beachy dune grass and rows of half-built condos sat empty along the roadside, silhouetted in weirdly dim, soft white road lights. The old-fashioned kind. This was after they finally passed the moratorium on residential building in rural areas, the one the developers held up as long as they could, until the “hazards” somehow got into that gated community near the Taltree Preserve; whose woods, fields and ex-farmlands these are, even they then managed to figure out. Nothing hazardous that night, though, just the dark sky and the low fuzzy whiteness and everything peaceful and sleepy until suddenly there were two blinding headlights bearing down on us from the wrong side of the road, howling brakes and screaming and then, like the lost breath from a hard stomach punch, everything gathered into a fist and struck, and then stopped.

I remember a pickup truck, yellow, gone faded saffron under the road lights. And a woman’s voice, not my mother’s, moaning over and over like some nauseated prayer while I lay on the pavement dying, Oh Christ, oh God, oh Christ oh Christ oh Christ oh my God and I thought, Lady, it’s a little late for that now isn’t it? Her voice was washed out, staticky with the buzz of a million angry flies eating her up, and the buzzing became louder and louder and there were new flashing lights, red ones, but it was too late, I was all eaten up, and I closed my eyes and fell asleep for a long time.

Then, days or weeks or months after the funeral, I woke up.

While I stayed up till 2 am to finish this story, I can't help but be disappointed. The story seemed to slowly lose focus and unravel. It reads like a novel where the author lost direction. Like Turner had this really interesting idea, but didn't know how to make it come to life. While the details were well done, e.g. the descriptions of corpses and the idea of bonding even as a zombie, the larger picture is where Turner lost me. Turner created a world without first developing any parameters to that world and it shows. The ending seemed more like a desperate effort to make it all make sense and for me it just fell flat. This book doesn't consider what it means to be "living" or seem aware of any of the ways Turner could have dug a little deeper into what it means to truly be human. And that's a shame.

Maybe a first person perspective is just too hard to do with zombies. The short story “Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Ayala Dawn Johnson (Zombies vs Unicorns) is still the best I've come across. Maybe I can just beg Johnson to write a full length book.

Rating: 4. Bad, but for some reason I still needed to know what happens in the end

Monday, August 19, 2013

Songs for the End of Summer

This summer hasn't really felt like summer to me. Maybe it's because the sun has been shyer than usual. Even though it's been hot, too many of our days have been overcast. Or maybe it's because I work too much and forget to enjoy the warm weather while it's here. Either way, school starts next week so it's time to prepare myself for the craziness and joy fall always is. And what better way is there to do that but with some kick ass music?

All of these songs sound like the end of summer to me. I've noticed a lot of them have an electronic sound which is interesting.

Summertime Sadness by Lana Del Rey:

Almost all of Lana Del Rey's music sounds like the end of summer to me. It has the slow and hazy quality about it that reminds me of long days and longer nights.

Young Blood by The Naked and Famous:

This song just sounds nostalgic. It makes me want to go on long drives and stay up too late.

Summer’s Gone by The Kinks:

Name really says it all doesn't it?

True Affection by The Blow:

True Loves by Hooray for Earth:

I've shared this song before, but it's just too perfect.

Heartbeats by The Knife:

I came across this song on Pandora and I just adore it.

Pompeii by Bastille:

Anything Could Happen by Ellie Goulding:

This is the perfect song to transition into fall. It just sounds like wonderful things are around the corner.

So goodbye summer. Hello fall...

Hello Stranger

Can the year really be almost over? A slow panic overcomes me when I think about all the things I haven't yet begun to do, but there's also a creeping satisfaction when I think about all the things I have. Either way, I still can't believe summer is already over. The days drag on but the weeks fly by.

I know it's been a long time since I posted anything, but I've been busy living. What no one tells you about the old adage "work hard, play harder" is that you will be exhausted. I've gotten so used to being on the go that I'm trying to relearn how to just sit and be still again.

While I've met some wonderful people and gotten into more than my share of shenanigans, I feel like I've lost some sense of balance in my daily life. I spend too much time working and not enough time reading. I've stopped cooking for most of my meals and I can't even remember the last time I was at the gym. I am not okay with this. Since blogging helped me be accountable for my choices before, I'm hoping I can use it as a motivational tool once again.

So I guess this is my tentative return to blogging. Wish me luck.