SFF CYBILS BOOKMARK: The Buzzed About Books

I sat down and hit four real winners in a row the other week — which was great and gave me a zingy “buzz” feeling. Of course, I’ve read a lot of other stuff and am just getting to post this days later, but — this review is going to have been worth the wait. Trust me.

GUARDIAN OF THE DEAD, by Karen Healey, is a thoroughly imaginative New Zealand fantasy featuring the mythology and legends of the Maori — and a big, tall, island girl waking up to the realization that the thousands of fairytales and the hundreds of stories she’s read might hold more truth than she knows.

Ellie’s main concerns in life are her buddy, Kevin, and trying to pull herself together in her rather rumpled school uniform and turn things in on time. Boarding school is her option for the year, since her parents are away, and she’s just trying to fit in. Of course, the strange boy in her class, Mark, is someone she wishes she could connect with — but he’s gorgeous, and silent.

Ellie doesn’t care too much, until she does Kevin a favor and gets involved with a play production put on by his oldest friend. A woman in the cast goes after Kevin with a sort of terrifying single-mindedness — and Ellie knows Kevin isn’t interested. Well, he …wasn’t… Something strange is going on — and it seems the woman has Kevin under a spell. Ellie isn’t about to lose a friend. If the woman wants to play with magic, Ellie is willing to learn.

There’s both magic and mayhem in this story – a disturbing killer, a strange mask, a crazy bum who insists Ellie needs his Bible to be safe, and Mark — who seems to be casting a few spells of his own.

This novel is quite a ride, and a fascinating SFF debut for the author.

Okay, zombies.
I have to admit that they annoy the heck out of me (Note: this does not mean I have any love for the rainbow barfing one-horned horse, either). They’re thoroughly unscientific. I apologize for being indelicate, but I’ve had friends for whom doctors have had to “pull the plug.” When the brain quits, the body falls, thus the whole undead-want-brains thing just peeves me. And it’s a specious annoyance, at best; it’s not like vampires and weres are scientific. I guess we fantasy people just like our specific brand of fantasy, okay?

All this to say, when I picked up ROT & RUIN by Jonathan Maberry, I was not enthused. The cover is striking — a wide, green eye on an paper-pale face — but it was obviously zombierific, and I was thinking, “Okay, let me just get through this.”

Several hours later, I put the book down. And shook my head.

It was a in-one-sitting kind of big-gulp thing I’d just done. It is that good, people. And, it’s about hunger. And job-hunting. And brothers. And expectations. And disappointment. And heroes. Oh — and it’s about zombies, too.

The author steps beyond the tired tropes of storytelling and brings in some fresh things, including a very hot Asian guy. Sorry, but those are few on the ground in YA-land; the Asian male is usually relegated to being dorky-cute and smart. Or, faceless, as in Ninja. Not so here; Rob Sacchetto has designed some really amazing endpaper art. (Okay, Sacchetto’s art elsewhere is REALLY weird, but hey. He likes zombies. It’s a zombie book. What are ya gonna do?)

Benny Imara has to find a job. He’s turning fifteen, and it’s just One Of Those Things in the new post-apocalyptic world; you don’t work, you don’t eat. Rations get cut in half for those who are old enough to be working, but don’t, and that’s just not enough to get by on in a town where the food has to be brought in by truckload, and there’s nothing outside the fence but the great and frightening beyond of Rot & Ruin.

Benny’s brother, Tom, has a job. He’s offered to mentor and apprentice Benny, multiple times, but Tom is a full-on dork, and Benny’s embarrassed by him. DEEPLY embarrassed. And resentful, in his heart of hearts. Before the Fence was up, before everything in the world changed, Benny had had a full-set of family — parents. And Tom had left them to die.

Benny doesn’t want to learn anything from Tom, ever.
But he might not have a choice…


(Just writing this little teaser has me thinking about the book all over again.
I might have to go reread it. Seriously. If you can find another book that has great meaning in the face of gore and monster mayhem, I’d be happy to read it. ‘Til then, please read this one. It is that good.)

Last year, I also started Carbon 2015 with a less than enthused feeling. It’s British writing. Sometimes it doesn’t quite …click with me? And I know you’re all going to boo and hiss or draw away in nonPC-laden despair because I said that out loud, but it just doesn’t appeal to me as it does to tons of Anglophiles. It’s fine, but there’s a certain similarity to much of the fiction that gets reprinted in the U.S., I’ve noticed. Georgia Nicholson is kind of a junior Bridget Jones; Jess from the series which begins with Girl, 15, Charming But Insane — though I loved her — also follows that same sort of breathless, slapdash, quirky female thing who worries incessantly about something unimportant, and eventually Finds Lurve.

All this digression to say, I was not really excited about The Carbon Diaries last year. But the original idea of a girl trying to form a band — a thing thoroughly important to her — writing songs against the corruption in the government, while society collapses and everything changes — it was riveting. I eagerly anticipated THE CARBON DIARIES, 2017 by Saci Lloyd.

While there’s still humor in the novel — the whole idea of people having to spend Carbon Credits is still gobsmackingly original, and watching the Brown family valiantly try to adjust to their new way of living (potato farmers? Really!?) the situation has become much more serious, however, two years later. Ordinary people cut down on their usage — but there are some people who can utterly avoid having to change their lives at all. The huge divide between the Haves and the Havenots has deepened and while Laura just wants to sing about the truths in her life and in the world around her — between running to the occasional class at the University — music is no longer enough. Laura’s friends just can’t seem to let things be. They’re protesting and getting involved, and when Laura loses her apartment, she’s drawn into the world of protests and marches, squatting in squalor, and stealing power to get by.

And then after one bad night, there’s a warrant out for her arrest…

There’s a lot more at stake in Laura’s world than ever before. And it might just be time to stop trying to hide behind the music, and stand up for what she believes — whatever that might be.

I said I was pretty well burned out on vampires — and for the most part, I am. But every once in awhile, a new story comes along that makes me roll my eyes and I go back on what I just said…

Solace has always been kind of the lonely, weird girl in her house. She doesn’t go to school, because the women who run the foster care home in which she lives don’t make her go. She’s never been adopted out, not even for a night, because …well, nobody wants her. And she’s not ugly or ill-behaved. She’s just practically invisible. And a really picky eater — only meat and a few fruits, and not a lot much else, or it all comes back.

She’s just too weird, maybe, for anyone to want her.

Of course, Solace is weirder than even the foster moms know. She can bend steel. And hear too well. And smell things…

And she’s turning seventeen. Solace is almost to the point where she’s aging out of the system. She can’t wait to leave — her life is boring beyond boring. Until, one day, it’s simply terrifying. And Solace takes to the road like she was born to do it. Running until she can’t run anymore, she finds shelter with an unlikely group of people, and suddenly the world is larger than ever. For the first time, she has friends, and a place to hang, and kind of a normal teen life.

How long will it last?
Who was the guy without a face who was at the foster home?
Why did no one ever notice or want her?
And why do so many people notice her and want her now?

I really enjoyed this voice in this novel – it’s what makes it for me. Plus, the plot — it’s the perfect mysterious set-up for a series, but not only that, it’s an adventure. How many middle grade novels do you read where a group of kids goes away, and ends up sleeping in a museum or a mall or a library? Teen “adventures” usually involve cars and much more convention, yet these teens have a true adventure, and it makes for satisfying reading.

Foz Meadows publishes solely in Australia just now, so this book may have limited availability until it comes out in the U.S., but keep an eye out — it’s well worth the wait for the series.

There are books in this world worth buying. You’ll find Guardian of the Dead, The Carbon Diaries 2017, Rot & Ruin, and Solace & Grief from an independent bookstore near (or nearish, in the case of the book from Australia) you!

About the author

tanita s. davis is a writer and avid reader who prefers books to most things in the world, including people. That's ...pretty much it, she's very boring and she can't even tell jokes. She is, however, the author of nine books, including Serena Says, Partly Cloudy, Go Figure, Henri Weldon, and the Coretta Scott King honored Mare's War. Look for her new MG, The Science of Friendship in 1/2024 from Katherine Tegen Books.


  1. CRAP! I just saw 2017 at the library, and, because the title was so similar, thought it was 2015 and ignored it. AARGH.

    These all sound great. I've heard a few good reviews now of Rot & Ruin…I'll have to get over my zombie thing, too, and pick it up.

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