Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Book Review: Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard
Release Date: July 24, 2012
Publisher: HarperTeen 
Pages: 400
Received: ARC from publisher
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


From Goodreads:

The year is 1876, and there’s something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia…

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about. Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper—

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor…from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including their maddeningly stubborn yet handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.


Miss Eleanor Fitt, she of the coolest name in the land

I don't feel like I fully know Eleanor yet, but I like her enough to save her a seat at the cafeteria. I think part of the reason I feel a little hazy on Eleanor is because she's unsure of herself. Eleanor doesn't fit into the high society world her mother is pushing her toward, but she isn't exactly able to blend in with the lower classes either. Where she belongs isn't clear yet, but this is only part one of a series and I get the feeling I'm going to see Eleanor come to terms with this as her journey progresses. I like her enough that I'm invested in seeing what she ultimately decides.

I'd also be the kind of friend that tells her dragon mother of course Eleanor is hanging out at my house today, when really she's sneaking off to cavort with spirit hunters. The poor girl seriously could have used a cover friend. 

Jailbait stole my swoon

I had already developed a pretty big crush on Daniel Sheridan before I had even met him based on Susan's interview where she described him as a scalawag and compared him to Dimitri from Anastasia (only one of the hottest cartoon characters ever). So did reality mesh with my fantasy?

Yes and no. Daniel IS totally swoony, but he's also very much a younger guy (but exactly like a young Dimitri!). He is roguish and charming, but he lacks the rougher edges of an older guy. At his core, Daniel is pretty innocent and mostly makes me want to pinch the cheeks on his face...and only the cheeks on his face.

Now, does this matter at all to the target audience of actual teens? Probably not! I'm sure they'll want to do more to Daniel than chaste grandma pinches (I would have been SO in love with him when I was younger). I'm not a teen though, and I felt a little bit wrong crushing on such a boyish romantic lead.

Also, while it is technically a hate-turned-love romance, the turning point happened easily and early on and that zapped away some of the tension-filled banter I was hoping to read. Daniel's nicknames for Eleanor came off sounding more like a wistful crush he was trying to hide (still, cute) instead of the mocking sarcasm of, say, Han Solo's nicknames for Princess Leia ("Your Worship"), which is what I wanted.  

Now the other guy! HE I could have crushed on. Maybe. He was older and had that Protective Man thing going on. But that relationship so wasn't happening, and for multiple very good reasons (one of which is that he's kind of a jerk sometimes. Another reason I didn't see coming AT ALL. I think I bruised my jaw when it hit the ground on THAT revelation. Talk about an awesome out of the blue gut-punch!).

And, DON'T WORRY, this isn't a love triangle book and the romance takes a backseat to all the fun zombie stuff. 

Wait,  this is a zombie book?

Thankfully, no one kisses zombies in this book. Whew.

They do kill them though! But, despite a number of flesh-seeking hording and knee-hacking scenes, there wasn't a whole lot of peril. Underlying everything is this frothy fun feeling that made me want to giggle in the middle of the slayfests. Which isn't a bad thing at all.

See, Eleanor is so NOT a capable, badass like Deuce. She's more like adorable season 1 Willow—she's awkward and doesn't have a clue what to do, but she's willing to pitch in (with large doses of hilarious awkwardness and tons of Es for Effort)! And, as much as the badasses generally earn my awe and respect, it's the characters like Eleanor who make me want to break out my friendship-bracelet lanyard.

So while, yes, there are zombies in this book, they aren't really scary zombies. Think Army of Darkness. That said though, there are a few somewhat gory images conjured up and something happened at the end that was more hardcore than I would have ever expected from a book with a pretty dress cover (I'm not complaining! Just, surprised, that's all).

400 pages, are you kidding me?!

They go down easy, I promise. There isn't a TON of action, but I liked Eleanor so I had just as much fun following along while she went out to lunch with her friends as I did when she was sleuthing with the Spirit Hunters.

Sure, maybe a few nips and tucks here and there might have helped me a little during a few repetitive scenes, but with stuff like blowing up a dynamite factory and Eleanor nearly getting herself electrocuted peppering the pages, I'm really not complaining.

The only thing I might complain a teeny tiny bit about was the fact that I figured out the big reveals really early on. I still enjoyed myself, but that did take away from the mysteries, which would have otherwise been nicely twisty.

Bottom line

There's a lightness to Susan Dennard's writing that was almost reminiscent of Kiersten White. That's HIGH praise. This first book was very surface fun and keeps everything at a PG level. I may even give Something Strange and Deadly to older tweens who are able to handle the gory aspects. Though don't get me wrong, this is still great for YA readers.

Something Strange and Deadly is part one of a series and ends neatly but is also clearly setting up for the next book. Something MAJOR and unexpected happened at the end and I'm incredibly curious to see how Eleanor handles this change in the future. Will it toughen her up? Will it force a decision as far as where she belongs? Will she get angry? Sad? Bold? Inquiring minds want to know.

Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key 

Do you have any questions about Something Strange and Deadly that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!

Something Strange and Deadly was published yesterday—no more waiting!

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  1. I have my review of this coming up later this week and no surprise I liked Daniel a lot more than you. I thought he was dreamy :)

  2. Oh that is an interesting comparison! I LOVE the Paranormalcy series so so much! I am not the biggest Zombie & Steampunk fan which is why I didn't think I'd like this book, but maybe I should give it a try after all!

  3. Glad you liked this book well enough. 3.5 though is one where I may just wait a while on. Thanks for the great review!

  4. Sounds like this has potential. It does occasionally get awkward when you realize that you're crushing on a "little boy" in comparison to your age (that's why I've never thought Taylor Lautner was cute...he looks so feels dirty) :-) . It's the work of the author to make the reader think they're 17 again. I like books best when I get lost in their reality.

  5. I don't know about this book. It sounds a bit young to me over all.
    And yeah, I like to be able to swoon over my romantic leads even if they are a bit younger (I tell myself I'm channeling my inner 16 year old) but they do need some rough edges.


    You did give really high praise saying it's a bit like Kiersten White, and that's really tempting. But on the other hand 400 pages??? * le sigh*

    I'm torn.

  6. "Something MAJOR and unexpected happened at the end and I'm incredibly curious to see how Eleanor handles this change in the future." Uh huh. That totally surprised me for the same reason it did to you - everything was all breezy and then wham! I had to check and make sure what happened really happened. Then it was like "What is she going to do now?!"

  7. A bit like Kiersten White, huh? I totally adored "Paranormalcy" because the writing was fresh and it was genuinely funny. I guess I should give this one a whirl despite the presence of zombies.

  8. Have I mentioned how much I adore your reviews! This one definitely has potential despite the fact that those of us who are a bit ...ahemmm...older...may not have a crush!

  9. Okay, I did not expect there to be a dynamite explosion in this. Count me in! I haven't read any zombie YA books yet. Maybe start with this?

    Great review, as always.

  10. I've been curious about this one. Great review. At the start I almost thought this one was historical fiction not zombies. Sounds like you enjoyed this one but were too smart for it. :-)

  11. Um, you had me at DIMITRI FROM ANASTASIA. Oh my! I keep meaning to start this one, but that one observation (plus the fact that you'd save the heroine a seat at the cafeteria, hah) makes me want to bump it up my list. Sounds like a fun read!

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  12. Ooh, okay I think I had brushed this one off a bit because it hadn't been getting the best of reviews, but from what you had to say about it, I think I could like it quite a bit! I think you have me convinced with the comparison of the MC to WIllow, Season 1. It's not that I don't love the kick-ass MCs that we seem to be seeing a lot of lately, but I tend to fall in love with these type of MCs much more easily too. I've also been coming to appreciate books like this that have a lighter all around tone - maybe I've become burnt out of the ultra-serious type stuff. Anyways, thanks for the helpful review, Small!!


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