Tag Archives: zombies

Book Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

( #warmbodies )

Hollywood is full of clever bastards. The Walking Dead is an extremely popular television show and comic book. It is also Feburary and a few weeks away from Valentines Day. What is a crafty movie executive to do? A romantic zombie movie or a romzom of course. I have been bombarded by ads for “Warm Bodies” for a few months and then I happened to read that it was based on a book…

… and said book was said to be considerably darker and deeper than the romzom version. So I downloaded it.

Warm Bodies is a short and enjoyable novel. It took me a few hours to read it and I liked it. The book is an obvious riff on “Romeo and Juliet”. The zombie’s name is “R” and the lead female is “Julie”. Her dad is in charge of the human survivors and clearly would not approve of his daughter’s necrophilia. Both characters have to buck their social norms to be together.

I suppose my only issue with the book is that the zombies have a society. If you see the commercial for the movie, you get the impression that “R” eating Julie’s boyfriend makes him start thinking and living again. The book also pushes this idea, but the zombies are clearly organized before “R’s” encounter with Julie. The zombies can sort of talk and there is a hierarchy to their society. They have strategy to eat humans. So they are not the typical zombies from the movies even before the main plot thread starts to happen.

The book tries to make “R” the zombie messiah and a romantic lead and those two thread compete for room in the book, but since this isn’t “War and Peace” you get over that problem pretty quickly. One thing I really appreciated about Marion’s writing is that he did not use the same terrible cliched words that every zombie writer uses – gore, guts, meat, disemboweled, and of course braaaaaiiins.

Bottom line: Fun and quick read – I recommend it.

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Book Review: Blackout by Mira Grant

( #newsflesh, #blackout )

I wasn’t sure if I was going to read the third and final book in Mira Grant’s “Newsflesh” trilogy, but then Anthony Bourdain’s tales of kitchen mishaps had me seeking shelter from reality. I did not react favorably to the 2nd book (“Deadline“) but I decided to give Grant a chance to see if she ended on a good note.

WARNING: There will be spoilers about the trilogy in this review, read at your own risk…

Blackout” is better than “Deadline” but does not deliver on the potential that “Feed” established. The plot has some problems. Grant fully commits to the concept of “Cloned George”. I didn’t like the decision to bring the character back, but Grant fully commits to the idea and concept which I respect.

The first 50% of the book essentially makes the events of “Deadline” somewhat pointless. Grant makes references to the second book, but outside of revealing George was cloned and a larger CDC conspiracy at play, nothing else really carried over. Most of these pages are spent trying to get the reader to accept “Cloned George” as the real deal. Grant makes the character doubt her own authentication as a means to endear her to the readers, but then has every character say “oh, we accept you now after three seconds of doubt – GLAD TO HAVE YOU BACK!”.

The reasoning for her cloning is weak… something about making America trust the news she is saying even though she is a clone and the big reveal is backed up by all the other characters having multiple cameras filming the entire exchange. At the start of “Blackout” Shaun’s crew have two clear missions:
1. Get Alric’s sister out of Florida (which has a massive zombie outbreak due to artificially created insects that now carry the virus).
2. Get fake IDs from a character named “the monkey”

The main characters don’t accomplish either task and I feel like there was a lot of pages wasted to conclude those points. I would not mention this if Grant was above using short cuts in other sections of the book. Shaun finds “Cloned George” completely by accident. There was no way that could or should have happened. It would have been easy for Grant to modify a few points to make Shaun end up at the Seattle CDC with more purpose.

Then there is the whole reveal that George and Shaun (adopted brother and sister) are hooking up. Yes, while reading the first book, I definitely got the vibe that something was going on, but Grant didn’t push it. That was the right call. I feel like she succumbed to pressure to put those two characters together. She could have left it vague and let the readers decide for themselves. There is also issue of Shaun’s immunity to the virus due to his “interactions” with George v1.0.

On the positive side – Grant downplays the zombies in this book in favor of character development, which I totally agree with. The zombies are a background threat at all times (and useful plot devices to add danger), but she allow her previous work to set the stage and focused on finishing the story. I also appreciated the fact that there is a conclusion to this story. A clear conclusion. If you factor out the major weaknesses that I just brought up, the story actually comes to a satisfying end. This in itself caused an issue: the story’s beats fell exactly where they should have so the “big reveal” was a little flat, but organic. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” pretty much sums it all up.

I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up the voice in Shaun’s head. I called this out in the last review as a writer’s crutch, but when “Cloned George” shows up, things get weird as Shaun has conversations with the George in his head and also the clone. Then the voice goes quiet for a while but starts to get loud again towards the end but gets all possessive and suicidal – and then never gets mentioned again.

This review is a little more critical than I intended it to be because I liked this book much more than the 2nd installment, I just feel that it could have been better. It also confirmed my comments about “Deadline” not really needing to exist. “Deadline” and “Blackout” would have been much better trimmed down and presented as one book, but I don’t fault Grant from needing to make a living.

My recommendation is to read “Feed” and then skip to this book. Anything you need to know about “Deadline” you can find out within a few chapters. Grant’s attempts to stay ahead of the readers by setting up missions that completely get derailed are commendable but sloppy. Ultimately, she does a decent job at finishing what she started but never quite lives up to the promise of the first book.

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Book Review: Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker

( #zombies, #brains )

I just finished reading a short zombie novel called “Brains: A Zombie Memoir”. This books take a more comedic approach to the zombie genre by having the lead character named Jack (who is undead) retain his memories and ability to think and write. Jack assembles a team of zombies who have managed to retain certain skills like running or shooting a gun and attempt to find the man responsible for the outbreak.

This book is way too similar to another zombie comedy I read a few months ago called “Zombie, Ohio” by Scott Kenemore. Allow me to review the similarities:

  • Both books feature male lead characters that retained their memories after they become zombies.
  • Both characters were college professors.
  • Both characters cheated on their significant other before zombification.
  • Both characters quickly embrace their zombie natures and gleefully eat people (both books make it an almost sexual experience).
  • Both books have the main character assemble and lead a zombie army.

Like “Zombie, Ohio”, “Brains” reads like fan fiction… bad fan fiction. Becker is going for a comedic tone, so there is no tension. She uses terms like “yummy” when the zombies eat brains, and it comes off as childish. Like the zombies she writes about, the plot wanders. Jack the zombie eventually finds his way to the scientists, but by the time it happens you don’t care because Becker moves the reader past it.

While I don’t normally come down this hard on books, I felt that “Brains” could have been much better. “Zombie, Ohio” also had room for improvement, but the author had fun with the environment he created. “Brains” is a paint-by-numbers zombie story that just goes through the motions.

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Book Review: Zone One by Colson Whitehead

( #ZoneOne, #Zombies )

Frequent readers of this blog know I love zombies and that in my opinion “World War Z” is by far the best zombie fiction written to date (I am just getting that out of the way). That being said, Colson Whitehead’s “Zone One” is an excellent entry into the genre. It is well written, takes a unique perspective, and leaves the reader wanting more.

Whitehead has an interesting writing style. His paragraphs are dense and somewhat circular. This is not a criticism by any means but not something you see often in horror fiction (and certainly not in zombie fiction). There is an almost poetic rhythm that left me with the impression that Whitehead labored over each word. Since I tend to speed read, I found myself going over sentences a few times to make sure I got everything (bravo for making me savor the page).

The story is about recovery after a zombie apocalypse (similar to “World War Z”). Unlike WWZ, humanity is not on solid ground. The zombies are still active and the recovered areas are under siege by the undead. The main character, Mark, is part of a team that is assigned to sweep New York city. The army has already done most of the heavy lifting, but buildings and tunnels still need to be checked and cleared for repopulation. As the team clears out the buildings, they tell each other their survival stories (so readers can learn the history of the plague).

This book has a harder tone than WWZ, but it is still not as bleak as most of the zombie fiction out there. The main theme of survival is played out in a variety of ways: the characters demonstrate a clear will to live, but there is also tremendous survivor’s guilt. Most zombie fiction comes with social criticism, “Zone One” is light but Whitehead hints at an undercurrent of disgust at the reformed government’s attempt at recreating society as it was.

“Zone One” is an well written book that is less horror and more about the personal toll of surviving a disaster. If you enjoyed WWZ, I have no doubt you will like this book.

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Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks

( #Zombies, #MaxBrooks )

This is a bit of a departure for me, because I read this book years ago. Actually, I read World War Z at least three times in the last few years, so that should tell you how much I liked it. The reason I am doing the review so late is because I am actually writing this for another website (but cleverly posting it here as well). Enough blog politics, on with the review…

World War Z is so good is because it is not about zombies. Don’t freak out, there is plenty of terror and gore, but the true momentum of the book is carried by the stories of how society failed and rebuilds itself after a major disaster. Unlike most Zombie books (where everyone usually dies), humans basically learn from their mistakes. The world isn’t perfect after the plague wipes out most of the population, but the book gives the reader the sense that the world is going to be a better place as a result of the carnage.

Brooks does an excellent job of rationalizing why certain societies did better during the crisis (island nations like Cuba were naturally protected, while militant societies like Israel were generally well prepared and took action quickly). Instead of the following a traditional linear format, the events are told in a series of survivor interviews. This was a very effective narrative device that I have noticed other genre books adopting (notably Robopocalypse). The interview approach allowed Brooks to convey the terror of the situation without getting into B-grade horror writing. Aside from the concept of the dead walking around trying to eat people, the plot feels very plausible. Brooks also does a very good job of making the book feel like a historical document which adds to the fantasy that this could actually happen.

I have said this in other zombie book reviews, World War Z is by far the best zombie book on the market and is a great read for any fiction/genre fan. WWZ is clever, creative, and scary the best possible way – I highly recommend it.

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Book Review: Zombie, Ohio by Scott Kenemore

( #Zombies, #ScottKenemore )

Frequent readers of this blog know that I have a thing for zombies. A few weeks ago, Amazon had a Kindle sale on a zombie book that I never heard of before called “Zombie, Ohio”. For a few dollars, I didn’t mind taking a risk.

While reading, I could tell that the author (Scott Kenemore) was a fan of the zombie genre because it reads a bit like fan fiction (I found similarities to a book I read last year called “Living with the Dead” by Joshua Guess). The benefit from being a legitimate fan of the genre is that Kenemore was trying to avoid using cliches, but the writing lacked a certain polish that could have pushed “Zombie, Ohio” to be much better.

The plot centers around a man who wakes up as a zombie. Although a zombie, he still has the ability to think but has no memory (at first). As the book progresses the zombie tries to remember how he died and attempts to find his place in the world. The plot was creative, but Kenemore misfires in his attempt to have the character explore his zombie nature and then go back to being a hero. Kenemore has a good time blowing up zombie cliches by using the thinking zombie in unique ways. He would have been better off leaving zombie as an antagonist for the human characters, since the redemption sections were very weak and the zombie playing mind-games with the humans was one of the things that worked well.

Overall this was a fun book that I didn’t mind reading or spending a few bucks on. It was certainly no World War Z which is the benchmark for any zombie book, but the author got creative and mixed up several genres into an entertaining quick read.

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