Wednesday, July 25, 2012

ARC Review: Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

Publisher:  HarperTeen
Publication Date:  July 24th, 2012

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.
(Courtesy of Goodreads)

I finished this book yesterday and am still trying to decide if it's a four-star book or a five-star book.  There were a couple of minor problems for me, but overall, I felt like it was a spectacularly entertaining read, and since that's the reason I read, I am in a bit of a conundrum.  Perhaps I will make up my mind by the time I finish my review...

I guess I'll start with something that I both loved AND hated about this book- the cover.  The cover is stunning!  Once again, I have to hand it to HarperTeen for a gorgeous, eye-catching cover, but here's the thing... The stunning girl on the cover does not reflect the description of Eleanor Fitt, our kick-ass protagonist, AT ALL!  Eleanor is supposed to be somewhat plain and a bit on the chubby side; a girl who can be made to look moderately pretty, with a lot of help.  The girl on the cover is a knockout, and I'm assuming that she is supposed to be Eleanor, given the fact that Eleanor is really the only young female character of consequence in the entire book.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get down to the story... I had read a few early reviews of Something Strange and Deadly, so I knew not expect the standard zombie novel.  Because I had that heads-up, I was able to go into this novel with different expectations, and I wasn't disappointed like I would have been.  In fact, I found this book to be really good, and exceptionally different.  When I say "different", I mean that I can't really classify it into a single genre- I would call it a "Historical Paranormal Mystery Romance", because it really pulls off every one of those elements well. 

It takes place in post-Civil War era Philadelphia, during the Centennial International Exhibition of 1876 (which was the 1st official World's Fair to take place in the United States).  I felt like Susan Dennard really did a nice job with her descriptions of the exhibition and the city itself, as well as the mannerisms, speech, and dress of the people of the era.  I also really enjoyed the characters, and while I wish the author had spent more time developing some of them (Joseph and Jie, in particular), I think she did a great job with the ones she chose to focus on.  Everyone had good and bad qualities, and each character's personality was revealed gradually, as you got to know him/her better.  I find that type of character development very real, and honest.  Eleanor was frustrating at times because she rarely gave much thought before she acted, but she was dedicated and courageous, and I really enjoyed watching her grow as the story progressed.  Clarence was one of my favorite characters, which surprised me as her gradually grew on me.  I found myself rooting for him to end up with Eleanor, even at the times that I wasn't sure I could really trust him.  I think my favorite character was Daniel, though.  He was secretive, brash,  and rather rude at times, but all for good reasons, which come out before the book ends.  As for the plot itself?  Very good.  It was well paced to the point where it never felt like a 400 page novel, and when the end came, I was wanting more.  Because the zombies were such because of a necromancer, and because zombie-ism wasn't infectious like most of the recent zombie-related books I've read, there was an originality to it that was refreshing.  Add to that the fact that there were several other elements of mystery, including that of Elijah, Eleanor's brother, and his disappearance, the fall of the Fitt family business, and the Wilcox family's sudden interest in the Fitt family, and you have a complex and riveting story.  My only problem with the story was that I knew who the villain was before the fact that there WAS a villain had even been established.  Much of the plot was spent of this big reveal at the end, and that kind of fell flat because I knew all along who it was.  Fortunately, the other elements were there to make this book amazing anyway! 

Overall, I think this was a more-than-solid first book for Susan Dennard, and I have a gut feeling that the issues I had with this book will be resolved in the next.  That said, I have to mention that Susan did something that very few authors of series books have competently done; she has written a first-in-series book that could stand alone, which is so refreshing.  Of course, I WILL read the next book in the series, A Darkness Strange and Lovely, but I'm not left frustrated with a horrible gut-wrenching cliffhanger.

So, have I decided if this book gets four stars or five?  Nope.  I guess, it will have to fall in the middle...

My Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ 

Grade Level Recommendation:  This book was pretty clean.  No sex. No major cursing.  There is some graphic violence, but it's pretty tame considering much of the other YA out there.  I would say this is fine for grades 5 and up (ages 10+).


  1. Haha I had no idea who had "done it" until I got to the end! I absolutely LOVED this book SO SO MUCH :D It was so much fun and so terrifying :D Great review :)

    Anna @ Literary Exploration

  2. Great review, I loved how you really explained exactly how you felt about the characters, cover, etc. Thanks!!

  3. I don't think I've ever read a zombie book and definitely not a YA zombie book. You have me intrigued!

  4. Great review! This book is sitting on my's next up in line in my TBR pile. Susan Dennard is lovely and such a fun, quirky chick. I've no doubt that she's created Eleanor to be as kick-ass as you describe. Can't wait to dive in.

  5. Oh, that's interesting. I didn't realize it was historical. Maybe I'll have to check it out.....

    Kate @ Ex Libris

  6. Your review is absolutely phenomenal! I haven't seen the historical setting discussed too much in the reviews I've read, so I'm glad to see that it was authentic. Plus, I love strong characters and this sounds like a book I'm going to love. Great review! :D

    Ivy Book Bindings

  7. I have to admit that it definitely sounds refreshing with a book that could be a stand-alone! It was a while since I came across one of those. I'm really glad to see you liked it! Definitely seems like a book for me.

  8. The cover thing often does annoy me... I mean, we get those GORGEOUS covers that you just want to kiss because they're so pretty, but you read the story and you're like, "Huh?" because it's not a great reflection =\

    Apart from that, oh this sounds SO good!! The whole zombie aspect sounds really unique and I love the historical setting. Brodie needs MORE YA books set in the past lining her shelves. I'm very intrigued to meet this rude, yet-for-good-reasons Daniel you speak of and especially Clarence, because I love those characters that leave doubt in your mind.

    You have made me even MORE excited to get my hands on this now. Amazing review!!

  9. have mine ordered and can't wait till it gets here

  10. Thanks for an awesome review! I finally broke down and bought this one, and I cannot wait to read it. I pull it off of my shelf just to look at the cover every other day at least. I have heard such good things, and I can't wait to be able to recommend this one myself.


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