Friday Book Review: Zombie Attack: Rise of the Horde

After finishing book 1 of Devan Sagliani’s Zombie Attack! Rise of the Horde, it was clear why this is listed as both an Amazon best seller and the Goodreads 2012 best zombie/horror e-book of 2012. The narrator, Xander, is a wise beyond his years, katana wielding 16-year-old who is waiting out the zombie apocalypse at Vandenberg AFB. A loner in a small group of mostly military family members who have survived to this point, Xander spends his time practicing martial arts and waiting to be reunited with his soldier brother. When Xander comes across a gang of base bullies tormenting 12-year-old Benji, Xander springs into action with the moves of a young Chuck Norris. In the aftermath, he’s a loner no more and Benji makes a great companion, full of the enthusiasm and excitement which provides a great contrast with Xander’s at times dour and pessimistic view of the world.

When zombie hordes overrun the base, Xander is one of the few that is quick enough and skilled enough to find an escape route. His little shadow, Benji, keeps close and follows along.  Forced to run for their lives, the unlikely duo must outwit fellow survivors, a task made more difficult by Xander’s belligerent teen male posturing and bravado. Much like the sword he carries, Xander is a sharp instrument who doesn’t mind drawing first blood. Benji manages to smooth the rough edges and every time Xander veers toward assholery, Benji pulls him back. It’s a sweet little brother-big brother relationship that left this reader looking forward to meeting Xander’s big brother, Moto, and seeing if that dynamic mirrors this one.

So, there’s relationships, an ineffective government response to zombies, and a rapidly decreasing number of survivors, yet Rise of the Horde doesn’t focus on the blood and gore part of the zombie apocalypse and doesn’t present stereotypical villains. Yes, there are scared townspeople. Yes, there is a crazy cult leader. Yes, there are biker gangs. But the great part of this tale is the care and depth the author uses in describing these so-called villains and their followers. They are individual, memorable, and as capable of evil as they are of redemption. Xander approaches each new encounter with a healthy skepticism of their motives and a tactician’s ability to see past the surface to the moves below.

Certainly one of the best YA zombie books I’ve read, it’s reassuring to know that once you’ve reached the end of Rise of the Horde, Sagliani has a second installment, Zombie Attack: Army of the Dead, available. Zombie Attack! Rise of the Horde is compelling, authentic, and worthy of the reader’s time. If you’ve already read it, let me know what you thought of it in the comments. If you haven’t read it, go buy a copy and update me after you’re done. This one’s a steal, currently at 99 cents on Amazon.

 

Friday Book Review: The Ghoul Archipelago by Stephen Kozeniewski

Stephen Kozeniewski’s The Ghoul Archipelago is not at all like his previously reviewed Braineater Jones. Where Braineater Jones is a straight shot of adrenaline and action, The Ghoul Archipelago is a sweeping, panoramic view of a world gone mad.

This seafaring novel, initially reminiscent of Heart of Darkness, branches off into various tributaries, including the Reverend Sonntag who attempts to integrate zombies into religion, billionaire Rand Bergeron who hasn’t found a situation he can’t manipulate himself out of, and Captain Henk “Howling Mad” Martigan who discovers zombies are the least of his worries. Needless to say, there’s enough tension, fighting, and crazed ambition to populate a trilogy.

Kozeniewski’s main characters are well drawn and come alive with great dialogue and descriptions. In the midst of the post zombie apocalyptic world, the testosterone level of his mostly male characters fuels plenty of chest thumping, ominous threats, and deadly double crosses. In this world of scoundrels, it’s hard to find someone to root for, but Howling Mad and his men provide an oasis of dysfunctional sanity in an insane world.  Summing this complex novel up into a few sentences is impossible, but it all comes together at the end and The Ghoul Archipelago delivers an excellent ending which left this reader satisfied.

Don’t worry, there is plenty of graphic sex, violence, and gore for those of you who demand lots of horror in your horror novel. In this case, Kozeniewski has also added plenty of heart. Check it out on Amazon, it is a story well worth reading.

 

Friday Book Review: The Tilian Virus

Tom Calen’s The Tilian Virus (The Pandemic Sequence Book 1) tells the tale of Mike Allard, former newbie school teacher now leader of a band of survivors of the Tilian virus. The virus, which turns its victims into flesh-eating predators, quickly wipes out the majority of the world’s population and leaves the survivors to fight off the infected as well as other uninfected survivors competing for limited resources. The narrative switches back and forth in time from the early days of the pandemic to seven years later and allows the reader to watch Mike and his former high school students grow up and mature in a world gone bad. Refreshingly, they remain decent people, even when it is to their detriment.

Mike transitions from a twenty-something inexperienced teacher, whose greatest worry is bus duty, to a solid leader who keeps hope alive in a seemingly hopeless world. He is not a man of steel, a ninja, or Jack Reacher. He’s a regular guy making do with what he has. A thoughtful, hard worker, he allows his former students to use their strengths to assist in their shared survival. He doesn’t always make the best decisions, but when he makes mistakes he takes responsibility and does the dirty work to correct them. Definitely someone I’d put on my pandemic survival team.

The story moves along at a brisk pace and though there is plenty of bloodshed and killing, there is more relationship building and maturity than found in many books in this genre. I won’t spoil the ending of this most excellent novel, but it is rare I am reduced to a sobbing mess at the end of one as I was when I finished this. The Tilian Virus has one of the strongest, most evocative endings I’ve read recently and though it filled me with deep sadness, it also made me want to continue the journey into Books 2 and 3.  Get yourself a copy of The Tilian Virus and a box of kleenex and email me when you’re done to tell me what you think. I’m dying to talk about it!

Get your copy at Amazon or check out other offerings at Permuted Press because they really do enjoy the apocalypse.

http://permutedpress.com/books/the-tilian-virus-the-pandemic-sequence-book-1#.U1J8nVfkpvA

 

Book Review Friday: Blood Soaked and Contagious

Blood Soaked and Contagious by James Crawford manages to entertain, educate, and horrify as it follows the adventures of Frank and his Man Scythe. Did I mention I love Frank? A great sense of humor, moves honed by numerous zombie death matches, and the desire to be a better man combine to make Frank a wonderful, yet deeply flawed, hero.

In Frank’s words: “I’ve been doing this gig, ‘Freelance Zombie Extermination,’ for just over a year and a half. My claim to fame is simple: Hey, I’m still alive! Better, I’m sure, than the other options.”

He’s sort of the American Juan of the Dead.

But Frank isn’t fighting brain-dead, sluggish zombies who travel in herds and eat anything in their path. These zombies are smart, organized, fast, and only attracted to people infected with the zombie virus. No infection with the virus means you can roam with impunity. Infection with the virus is akin to blood in shark infested waters, it’s only a matter of time before you end up as a zombie snack.

Sure, there’s plenty of zombie brain bashing, crushing, and skewering, but the real meat of this story lies in the bond between the inhabitants of Frank’s small, close-knit neighborhood.  When Frank’s good friend is asked to work for a zombie warlord and develop technology to allow the zombies to keep humans as cattle to feed upon, the friend must either submit to the request or endanger the lives of everyone in their community. If only it was as easy as putting up fences and stopping swarming zombies. Instead Frank and his compatriots must strategize against zombies with weapons, military tactics and discipline, and a rather casual attitude toward using their least gifted members as cannon fodder.

As if Frank’s life isn’t complicated enough, sibling rivalry and a hot female zombie killer, who admires Frank’s Man Scythe as much as he does, keeps the heat turned up on this page turner.  Blood Soaked and Contagious is a winner of a novel. Buy it at Amazon. If you can’t get enough of Frank, there’s a second book available called  Blood Soaked and Invaded.

Fast, Fun and Free Sunday: Zombie Games

Zombie Games by Kristen Middleton is fast, fun and free.

Zombie Games by Kristen Middleton is fast, fun and free.

Zombie Games (Origins) by Kristen Middleton is a fast paced YA romance set in the zombie apocalypse. 17-year-old Cassandra Wild, aka The Wild One, is both a firearms and martial arts expert. When an untested flu vaccine causes rampant zombie-ism, Wild leaps into action to protect her family and help other survivors. She’s aided by Bryce, a 20-year-old martial arts instructor who wows the women with his six-pack abs and slays zombies with fists and feet registered as deadly weapons (o.k., I totally made that part up. His feet and fists are lethal, but may not be registered in the big book of deadly weapons).

Of course the zombie apocalypse isn’t enough excitement. Wild and gang save the one girl in school she’d have gladly left for zombie bait, Eva. Eva is gorgeous, rich, and shallow enough to be more worried about making Bryce her next boyfriend than getting her hands dirty with zombie brains.

The majority of the story revolves around Wild trying to find her family and she is fearless in this quest. This is a fast read, partly because of its length but mainly because of its pace. Lots of movement, action, and tense situations kept me turning pages to the end.

My only complaint is that the zombie outbreak is blamed on an untested flu vaccine. As a healthcare provider, and someone who routinely gives vaccinations, the premise doesn’t work. I read carefully, trying to figure out if the author had some sort of anti vaccination agenda, but couldn’t find one. Since this is only book 1, perhaps in later books there will be a better or different explanation of the outbreak. Still, Zombie Games Origins was compelling enough to drag me past my disbelief and take me for an amusing and scary ride. Fast, fun and FREE means you should get over to Amazon and get your copy today.

Book Review Friday: The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery

 

The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery

The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery

We asked for zombie stories that showed humanity at its best, and Michelle Miller’s novel The Thirteenth Step: Zombie Recovery sort of fit the bill, but definitely wasn’t a friend of Bill. In Miller’s zombie apocalypse, the zombie virus reaches flash over proportions at the same time worldwide. As the zombies rend flesh and create new zombies, a select group of people are able to avoid zombie detection. Turns out they’re either drug addicts or they have the alcoholic gene. Bill, a PR person for the New York lottery, survives the initial slaughter as does Courtney, a Lotto winner whose dreams are dashed when zombies interrupt the check ceremony. As they fight their way to safety, Bill and Courtney slowly figure out the secret to their survival, and pick up a few other former alcoholics or children of alcoholics to round out their band. Bill, a true AA adherent who believes in meetings and fellowship, is at odds with Courtney, the bitter child of an alcoholic, who despises AA and everything it stands for. Definitely no love relationship about to brew there.

The group grows to include a drug dealer, a zombie aficionado, a middle-aged woman, a former addict now Ivy Leaguer, and an illegal immigrant. Each of these characters must come to terms with the guilt of surviving while their loved ones died, as well as battle their inner demons. Let’s be honest, in a zombie apocalypse who wouldn’t want to drink or drug? When you’re surrounded by 12 Steppers, though, any use of alcohol or drugs becomes a group discussion.

The wanderers do find a sanctuary of sorts, a gated community that runs by the rules of Alcoholics Anonymous. Here, everyone is in recovery and the leaders impose a multitude of rules to keep everyone on track. Up until this point, the AA story line referred to in the title mostly consisted of Bill singing the praises of AA and Courtney suspiciously eyeing everyone as if they were hiding bottles under their coats. Once the survivors arrive at the AA community, the tone shifts and suddenly AA is a cult with a charismatic leader and arranged marriages.  The New York group, uncomfortable with “AA fundamentalism,” decide to leave the community and continue their search for a safe place to live.

For the most part, this was an enjoyable read. The zombies were easily dispatched and posed no real threat to the survivors. Rising radiation levels were another obstacle that seemed easily surmounted and not a true threat. The danger in this story came from other humans and there’s even a reference to Jonestown in an attempt to heighten the danger when the New York group flees the gated community. Even so, this isn’t a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat waiting to see if our stalwart heroes make it to safety.

The only parts of the book that kept me guessing were whether this was an indictment of AA and other 12 step programs or a very awkward tribute and the ending which was both convenient and unexpected. Still, a happy ending in a zombie novel is what we asked for and The Thirteenth Step delivered. If you’re looking for something short on gore and long on feelings, this might be for you.

Buy it at Amazon