Alice in Zombieland

I wasn’t expecting to like Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter very much, I mean not all mashups are successful and sometimes it seems like they have outlived their novelty.  However, I came away with more positive feelings than negative.  Maybe part of it was there really wasn’t much reference to Alice a la Alice in Wonderland other than her appearance…pale blond hair, blue eyes and tall.

This Alice is a teen girl living in the UK, not Wonderland.  She has parents and a cute little sister, Lily, but there is some strangeness to her home life.  Her father refuses to let anyone in the family be out after dark, you see he believes in ‘monsters.’  Now that Alice is a teen it’s particularly frustrating and she doesn’t believe dear old Dad because Dad happens to drink heavily, so she thinks he is just crazy and can’t understand why her Mom hasn’t left him.  However Alice’s Mom fiercely loves her hubby even though she admits to Alice that she has never seen these monsters herself.

So this is the status quo for the family until one day her little sister begs her to talk her Mom into letting everyone attend her dance recital which is in the evening.  Somehow the Mom convinces the Dad to let them go, but on the ride home something terrible happens which then places Alice into a situation where she goes to live with relatives and attends a new school. At the school she meets Cole and his seemingly delinquent friends, but Cole is the most frightening of the group and when she looks at him she experience intense visions.  Are these visions of the future?  And why do Cole and gang often show up at school looking so beaten up?  Also, what is Alice glimpsing out in the yard at night?   While the answers to the mysteries were pretty obvious early on, what I liked about the book were characters like Alice and her best new friend Kat and their snappy remarks.  Basically, the book had some of the elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I love me some Buffy.   This is the first book in several sequels known as the White Rabbit Chronicles.  One of thing I am curious about is if there will be more references between the character Alice Bell and the Alice from Alice in Wonderland…

Positive

When most people hear ‘apocalyptic novel’ they think of a natural disaster such as global warming, drought, tsunamis or hurricanes, or even a man-made problem such as nuclear warfare, but they don’t leap first to a zombie apocalypse.

Positive by David Wellington takes what some would deem a supernatural or sci fi concept and makes it seem as likely as one of the more traditional apocalyptic events as those above. Particularly as the protagonist Finn hasn’t ever seen a zombie since he was born after the event from two parents who met in one of the many emergency shelters. Since Finn and his closest childhood friend have never even seen a zombie, and no one has reported any in years, they are distanced from the very idea of what that means. Not just distanced but even annoyed by the previous generation who display behaviors similar to the effects of PTSD that the post event generation doesn’t relate to.  The previous generations come off as paranoid and zone out at times when something reminds them of the horror. All Finn cares about is the simple life of his family, and doing his part to keep them fed with his fishing expeditions to the subways, which flooded years ago with no one to maintain them.

A discovery during one of the fishing expeditions leads to an life altering event as Finn discovers that there are things about zombieism that he never knew, including the idea that he might be harboring the virus that causes such a state in his own body. Well, he doesn’t believe it, but his community does and brand him a ‘Positive.’Finn is booted out to go live in a camp with other ‘Positives’ until two years have passed and he will be proven to be safe from zombiesm.  Not a great situation, but its made worse when his ride turns up dead and suddenly this sheltered boy is on his own.

However, he is not on his own for long as he meets an eccentric array of characters, some positive and some negative that will lead him on a journey across the country. I mean, what’s better than a good old-fashioned road trip adventure? A road trip with zombies. Yes, Finn quickly learns why the First Gen behave the way they do, yet it’s not just zombies that force him to grow up so quickly. In the world outside his community there are bandits, thieves, child molesters and questionable people galore. Yet, there are also those who live with honor in a world turned upside down. My favorite character is the female ex-patrolman who follows the strictest rules in a world where there are none anymore.  She reminds me of reading Shane in middle school.

Some of the action reminds me of Mad Maxx minus the desert, but with the vehicles, violence and the fall of women to property status. I like that the author David Wellington didn’t turn Finn into some kick ass fighter, or a torn soul tempted by violence. Each encounter and act on his part is a struggle, which is what makes him interesting in a world where it would be much easier to throw aside your scruples to simply survive. I guess that’s what Finn is all about, his goal isn’t to simply survive, he wants more.  He has a vision to rebuild the world, and right the wrongs, a decision that may cost him and the ones he loves everything. Because he narrates his own past in the book, we know he survived, but did he lose his purity and his vision for a different future? That’s what kept my interest throughout this YA book that had a maturity beyond its YA market.

The Girl With All The Gifts

My review of The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey is going to give you a sense of déjà vu if you read my other review for One Safe Place. That’s because in my opinion both of these books rushed too quickly to reveal their big secret about what happens to the children.

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t yet read The Girl With All the Gifts you should come back later as I can’t really write this review without discussing the big reveal.

Ok, if you are still reading either you have already read the book, or you are just a masochist. I don’t understand why less than a quarter through the book, actually more like one-eighth into the book the author chooses to reveal who Melanie really is, plus even before it was said there were giant hints. C’mon M.R., tease me a bit, tantalize me until I am bursting with curiosity instead of leading me by the hand to the secret. The first few pages were great and disconcerting as you wonder who this child and her teachers are, what kind of school educates brilliant minds but doesn’t allow them to also be children or have feelings?
I like apocalyptic and dystopian stories that make me feel unbalanced in the initial chapters. Don’t tell me what’s going on, just leave some crumbs, and challenge me to start putting the pieces together. In this fast food world we leave in, everyone wants everything now, whereas I prefer to savor, especially when it comes to stories.

Trying to make sense of Melanie’s world is what drew me into the book and so I don’t understand the rush to fling open the doors so quickly to reveal the ugly truth of her existence. Did this author think I wanted fast food?

I do imagine that maybe it would be hard for M.R. Carey to walk the fine balance of leaving enough clues so that readers stay engaged, but not so many that they figure out this world too soon, yet it has been done successfully by other authors, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery is a classic example of the art of giving readers a hint of unease without giving away the truth until the very end. It’s the reason this story remains on reading lists at schools and why years after reading it, the short story still stands out in my mind. Yet, maybe you would argue that as a short story, the challenge wasn’t as difficult to not reveal the world the character inhabits as it would be in a novel. The Adoration of Jenna Fox did so successfully and I think this book would have been stronger for extending the main conceit yet still having plenty of pages to address the development of Melanie into someone more human than the humans she is surrounded by. I did like that there wasn’t any miracle cure and the role reversal between Melanie and Ms. Justineau from student to teacher.

Unfed

Unfed, the sequel to Kirsty McKay’s Undead, moves the storyline away from focusing on zombies to focus on Xanthro, the evil pharma company who unleashed the Osiris zombie virus in Scotland.

After the bus crash, Bobby wakes up in a hospital only to be told her mother is dead and she has been in a coma for months. Good thing she has had all the rest as no sooner is she making sense of her surroundings then sirens blare and place is under attack, but by whom? With her newly shaved head Bobby is now a cross between GI Jane and Bruce Willis in every action movie. I mean, c’mon, how does a girl who hasn’t had any exercise in weeks suddenly able to fight, climb into an air duct and shimmy her way to an old friend’s room?   This happens repeatedly throughout this book, this girl is nearly killed over and over again, but is able to somehow to jump back up and kick ass? Well, it worked for Bruce Willis, Die Hard made big bucks, so maybe we expect superhero status of our heroes?

While the first book was reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in this story the Scooby Gang, with a new member and missing one member, are on a quest so it’s more like The Hobbit in terms of story. The gang needs to rescue their missing member and figure out a series of clues leading to a secret destination. Did I enjoy the change in focus of the story? Not really. I have never been a conspiracy nut.

However, I do enjoy Bobby as a reluctant female heroine. She is always first into the fray, but only because none of the others are willing to step up, something she sarcastically comments on all the time in her head. It’s those asides that smooth over my other criticisms of the book. I mean who says you can’t keep your sense of humor when being chased by zombies and corporate baddies?

 

Undead

Veronica Mars or Buffy meets zombies is how I would sum up Undead by Kirsty McKay. I mean that as a compliment, I loved the wisecracking kiss ass Buffy and the even snarkier Veronica Mars, so I enjoyed the funny asides from Bobby, the female heroine in this story.

Bobby already thinks things suck even before the zombie apocalypse happens. She has recently moved back with her mother to the United Kingdom and even though she was born there, she no longer fits in as her classmates think she seems very American. On top of that, her Dad died recently and her mom has never had much time for her being a total career woman. On a school field trip with classmates who have treated her badly, it’s no wonder she chooses to hide on the school bus when they are troop into a restaurant for a meal break. The only other person on the bus is another student, Smitty, a bad boy who is there as a punishment.
The unlikely pair are joined by Alice, cheerleaders and all around popular mean girl, when all the schoolkids and chaperones drop dead. Well of course they aren’t really dead, it’s just another zombie apocalypse.

When not hurling sarcasm at each other, they struggle to survive their changed circumstances eventually being joined by Pete, the geeky near albino kid, who has also managed to avoid the act which turned the others into zombies. The addition of Pete adds a Breakfast Club type of feel to the story as you have the cheerleader, the nerd, and the rebel bad boy, though Bobby is not weird enough to be the Ally Sheedy character, even if she is a bit of an outcast.

I like this kind of mix set against the zombie background as it makes it feel real to me as I believe teens even when fighting for their life would still retain some of the ingrained cliques that were so important to them even when things were normal. Self-absorbed, they would not automatically become best friends or better people just because of the circumstances they are in. I mean we would like to believe that in the direst of circumstances we would all be brave, kind, generous and loving to our fellow human beings, but would we really?

Is this an epic zombie book such as World War Z or The Forest of Hands and Teeth? No, it’s not weighty in the way those zombie tales are, this is a fun zombie book. It will have you flashing back to your high school days and laughing at the snark, and you know what? That’s just fine, books are foremost meant to be entertaining, if some make us feel deeper emotions, help us look at the world differently, or learning something, that’s great too, but not all books have to do so.

I will say author Kirsty McKay managed to throw a few curveballs into the end of this one that I didn’t see coming, so respect. Also, there’s a sequel that I just added to my ‘to read’ list.

Allison Hewitt is Trapped

Y’know, I think people who don’t read zombie fiction don’t realize the wealth of variety there is in this subgenre. Some zombie books like Rot & Ruin have a poetic grace, some such as the Forest of Hands and Teeth are well beyond being about zombies, and Allison Hewitt is Trapped is just snarkily funny, when it’s not being rather profound. Maybe I am biased, after all I was predisposed to like this one as Allison’s story is told through her blog, a blog she kept while trying to survive a zombie apocalypse, so she is a girl after my own heart. Sometimes I have felt like I am just trying to survive my life, and it’s been a challenge to get a post up every week, but it’s important to me in what has been a trying time in my life. Therefore, I greatly respect that Allison, badass that she is, manages to get blog posts up in between killing zombies.

OK, Allison Hewitt is not a high school teen, but she is a college student, so that’s close enough for me to write about the book Allison Hewitt is Trapped on this YA blog. Allison is paying for her studies by working at a bookstore when the zombie apocalypse happens. Allision, her boss, two assistant managers, and a couple of customers take refuge in the breakroom as chaos ensues. Forget the zombies, just being stuck living night and day with people you work with can already be horrifying. It reminds me of when I read Sartre’s No Exit in high school, hell is other people a lot of the time.

Eventually the group start to run out of food and Allison and Ted, an Asian chem student, volunteer to venture out into the store in search of vittles and Allison quickly learns to be an expert with the emergency axe she found as she dispatches the undead. Food is not the only problem the group has, soon sanitation issues ensue. I have to admit that when I read these books, or watch this type of movie, I am always secretly wondering how some of these basic needs are handled, so while it’s not my favorite topic, I applauded an author for finally addressing what we are all wondering.

Although Allison is the den mother of the group, she is outvoted by the rest who decide it would be best to relocate to the apartments above the bookstore for more comfort. Although initially more comfortable, the move has consequences, which Allison chronicles on her blog for a growing readership of survivors spread out across the country. All of us bloggers could wish that what we write has such an impact! Her words are what give others hope and the spirit to survive another day. When Allison’s mother responds to one of her blog posts that she is going to join her daughter as she and some neighbors are running out of food, Allison rejoices. However, events transpire that cause Allison and her little group to leave the apartments and head to the source of some radio broadcasts that she has been listening to at night.   The voice that keeps her company in the dark is one that will become a meaningful part of her journey along with her search for her mother.

Allison’s journey is emotional, spiritual and physical and she encounters some memorable characters who leave the kind of big impression in a short time that happen under situations of distress. I don’t want to describe more details as I hope readers will choose to experience this book for themselves.   If an apocalyptic event were to happen, how many of you writers and bloggers would try to do what Allison does?

                                                                                                                                                        

Monsters

First, let me say that Monsters, the final book in the Ashes trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick is a true monster of a book at 671 pages.  Normally it would thrill me that one of my favorite book series, and the last one, is nice and thick full of juicy action and characterization.  A friend of mine who doesn’t like zombie books or anything gory has read the first book, Ashes, based on how highly I rated it on Goodreads.  Now I feel a little responsible for the time she has invested because frankly I found Monsters to be inferior to the first two books.

One of the reasons the book is so lengthy is that the finale to the story is told in the voice many different characters.  I don’t mind the technique of switching between narrators as it creates variety and allows for deeper characterization.  There are too many books that only focus on the one or two main characters and the rest are on the periphery, too often used to move the action or story along and not developed with the same thoroughness.  I also find this technique interesting in the way it can give a different perspective on the action because the same people can have different reactions and views of an event, just look at how witnesses to a crime have been known to give disparate descriptions, times, etc.

 The problem with the way the technique is used here is that Bick is giving almost every character a voice.  It gets confusing, sort of like being in a room where everyone is talking at once.   Also, it might have been less disorienting to have each character narrate a few chapters in a row before switching to another character.  Instead, every chapter alternates and it takes a lot of focus to keep up with everything.  This also means that there are several chapters to wade through before the narrative circles back again to the strongest character, Alex.  In fact, I find it strange that the focus of this final book is really on Chris and Peter.  I do find Chris to be a fairly strong character, though Peter was not a very fleshed out character until now.  I just think that this being the last chance to experience these characters, that the focus needs to be on Alex, and Tom too as he was part of things from the beginning.  The other character I would have chosen to spend more time on is Wolf.  Granted, the fact that he is a changed and can’t speak would seem to be a hindrance in having some chapters be based around him, but actually that could have been an interesting exercise, show events from the point of view of a Changed since we really don’t know how they think or feel.  That’s what makes the Changed different than zombies in other books, most zombies are mindless creatures that only focus on hunger and don’t appear to think, have the ability to open doors, use weapons, etc. which is very different from the Changed in the Ashes trilogy.  Therefore, it stands to reason that it would be possible to tell some of the story from Wolf’s perspective and I think that would be very satisfying for readers to learn more about him in this final book.

The other danger with the way the story is laid out is that the author then has to come up with a plausible way to tie all the characters and the action back together for the climax of the story, some of which felt too coincidental.   At one point I felt like I needed to check a character key as I started getting certain characters mixed up. Even the author appears to be aware of how confusing the shuffling narrative is as she has added a character key to the back that I don’t recall being in the earlier books.  It seems to me if you put a key like that in, you know there’s a problem, and wouldn’t it be better to rewrite the book in a way where a key would not be necessary?

Lest it sound like I completely hate this book, I don’t, I am just disappointed because after reading the first two I had high expectations.  I still love Alex’s spirit and the way her tumor is characterized as a monster, one wonder if the title refers more to that, the Changed as monsters, or humans like Finn as the monsters?

There is also plenty of action, though maybe too much?  With some of the major characters getting seriously wounded in these action scenes it stretches credulity to think that they are quickly back on their feet and able to fight in further scenes.  Most of all, I disliked the ending intensely.  The way it was written made think there was actually another book coming, but since everything I have found refers to this as a trilogy, it seems not.  Yes, I am sure some will argue that such an ending lets the reader imagine, blah blah blah, but to me it left a whole new possibility for a continued story and really wrecked the whole Tom is the hero thing.  Curious what others think….

 

Fire & Ash

What do you when the last book in a beloved series is published?  Do you wait to get it to draw out that last read?  Do you start reading but only allow yourself one chapter per day to stretch out the experience as long as possible?  Or do you tear through it because you have to know what happened to the characters you have grown to love?

In the case of Fire & Ash, the final book in the Rot & Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry, I took the last route.  That’s unlike me; usually in other aspects of my life I am pretty disciplined and am able to delay always going for instant gratification, well when it comes to material things I want.  However, I have to know what ultimately happens to Benny, Nix, Lilah and Chang. 

We have all heard that “children are the future.”  Well, I can tell you as a former teacher that was not a comforting thought.  I saw a lot of immaturity, a lot of self-absorption rather than empathy, and much weakness rather than strength of character, and this was years ago well before the age of ‘helicopter parenting.’   Benny Imura is the kind of young adult character that post-apocalypse you would hope is out there. 

The whole series is a beautifully written story about the transformation from youth to adulthood. It is rare for a YA author to capture the blend of change, its complexity, as well as the grief of leaving childhood and innocence behind so movingly and realistically. In the first book of the series, the hero appeared to be Benny’s older brother Tom, who despite being Japanese and known for his skill with a katana, was very much reminiscent of the type of hero in the book and movie Shane.  However, Benny manages to surpass even his brother in bravery, loyalty and ultimately selflessness and wisdom in this final story.  He is also not the only character who grows in this way.  Nix, Benny’s childhood friend and first love displays all the complexities of women in one character.  Their maturation is the real story here, so for anyone who has ever thought zombie books are not for them, I would challenge you to read just this series. 

Yes, of course this is a zombie book in the sense that Benny, Nix, Lilah, Chang and newest character Riot have made it to Sanctuary.  A refuge staffed by monks, scientists and military types such as Captain Joe Ledger, a real life GI Joe.  Sanctuary doesn’t quite live up to its name though as the scientists interrogate Benny and his friends from behind the compound’s walls, Benny’s best friend Chang has almost fully transitioned to a zombie and Dr. McCready’s important research is missing; research that could not only help Chang but possibly save the world.  Even scarier than the zombies themselves are the fanatic self-named Saint John and his followers, the savage reapers who have formed a religion that preaches all of the survivors are sinners, and must join them in their quest to kill all the remaining survivors or themselves die. Saint John has not forgotten about Benny and his friends and how that enmity plays out leads to the climax of the story.

When an author has written a truly epic tale, it’s an incredible task to write a fitting ending.  In many cases I have been disappointed in how a series has been completed.  However, I think Mr. Maberry has achieved that and my hat is off to him.

 

 

Best Places To Be If You Want To Avoid An Apocalypse

It seems that most apocalyptic novels I read are either about:

a) zombies created by some mutated virus

b) a natural or an environmental disaster of some kind

So it was with interest that I came across this list of the Ten Safest Places in the U.S. from Natural Disasters:  http://finance.yahoo.com/news/top-10-safest-u-s–cities-from-natural-disasters-183608693.html

Maybe apocalyptic readers can create a Top 20 List, since this only covers places safe from some natural disasters and not from other factors….food for thought.

The Reapers Are The Angels

The Reapers Are The Angels is the book that Flannery O’Conner would have written had she been born during a zombie apocalypse. I studied Flannery O’Conner at university and the way she phrases dialogue and describes things has a certain style; I wonder if Alden Bell, the author of this book, is a scholar or fan of hers.
The language of this book is devastatingly beautiful and pierces through the otherwise grim story. It’s that difference that keeps me comparing it with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which for me was so grim that it was a disturbing read – this coming from someone with a blog on dystopian and apocalyptic fiction!
Temple is an uneducated teen with the soul of an artist who never knew the world prior to zombies, or meatsacks as she calls them. She lives independent of adults and haunted by a dark moment in her past, she roams the ruined United States of America. Although she comes upon various people and settlements where she could put down roots, a dark restlessness drives forward on the road.
During a brief sojourn at a settlement, she has an encounter with a man that will determine her fate. On the run, she meets a mentally disabled man who raises an emotion in her which makes her decide to bring him along on her journey. They briefly find respite at a mansion protected from the outer horrors by an electrified fence housing an eccentric family who live and speak as if the zombie apocalypse never happened. She briefly experiences a short-lived companionship and understanding before she must flee the refined household.
Temple sets out on a mission on behalf of her disabled companion, for she is a fearless killer who is able to keep both of them safe from the meatsacks and other disturbing creatures, the one person she is not safe from is herself. Haunted by her past, she doesn’t feel sufficiently pure to accept the offers for help or a home that come her way along the journey.
Readers may have mixed feelings about how the story ends, but the one thing everyone will agree on is that this is a book that will linger in the hearts and minds of readers.

My Library at LibraryThing