Aftertime by Sophie Littlefield

“Awakening in a bleak landscape as scarred as her body, Cass Dollar vaguely recalls surviving something terrible. Having no idea how many weeks have passed, she slowly realizes the horrifying truth: Ruthie has vanished.

And with her, nearly all of civilization.

Where once-lush hills carried cars and commerce, the roads today see only cannibalistic Beaters — people turned hungry for human flesh by a government experiment gone wrong.

In a broken, barren California, Cass will undergo a harrowing quest to get Ruthie back. Few people trust an outsider, let alone a woman who became a zombie and somehow turned back, but she finds help from an enigmatic outlaw, Smoke. Smoke is her savior, and her safety.

For the Beaters are out there.

And the humans grip at survival with their trigger fingers. Especially when they learn that she and Ruthie have become the most feared, and desired, of weapons in a brave new world….”

There is so much that I liked about this novel that it’s tough to figure out where to start.  Littlefield has balanced all of the elements so well that they intermingle and play off of each other in a way that I don’t often see.  Characters, plot, backstory, and setting have all been written with a rare skill and talent.

The setting is designed to please someone like me.  The story takes place in Northern California, and in fact references places that I have visited.  With so few books set in our area, I tend to enjoy the ones that do make Northern California their home.  In this novel, it also adds to the brutality of what happens, because of that very familiarity.  Readers who are not from this area will still enjoy the novel, and they will still feel the horror of what happens, but I think it will have a special poignancy for us residents.

For those who are squeamish, be advised that the novel does contain some scenes that verge on the gruesome.  The zombies (here called Beaters) do not attack indiscriminately; rather, they have learned to drag a victim to their nests and consume them there, often while the poor person is still alive.  The sheer terror and pain involved in these attacks comes through the pages and can be hard to read.  Admittedly, I had to put the book down a few times and walk away because it was very disturbing to me.  I wasn’t grossed out—a book that does that isn’t one that I want to read—but I was upset by the idea of such things happening.  The author doesn’t delve too far into the grotesque, but she gives you just enough to bring across that sense of horror.

The story isn’t one of mere survival, although that’s the level that most inhabitants of the world have been reduced to.  Rather, this story has a goal: Cass needs to get her daughter Ruthie back from those who are holding her.  The fact that the novel has a purpose beyond just “survive the zombies and rebuild society” puts it several notches above other novels in the genre.

The author makes a daring choice with regards to her main character: Cass is a recovering alcoholic who was only weeks sober when society fell apart.  Because of this, readers get to see the world through the eyes of someone who is uniquely unable to deal with it and, at the same time, uniquely poised to cope.  Cass references AA and its philosophies a lot, and it gives a structure to how she functions within this terrible new world.  At times, it’s heartbreaking to watch her struggles, because she tries so hard and suffers so much.

Sophie Littlefield is right up there with Mira Grant as the best zombie novelists on the shelf, and this is not praise that I give out lightly.  Aftertime is a kick in the gut that is nonetheless one of the most fascinating and sobering reads you’ll ever find.  Forget about The Walking Dead—grab this book and prepare to have your world shaken.

This review was originally posted on January 3, 2012.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe

“It starts with an itch you just can’t shake. Then comes a fever and a tickle in your throat. A few days later, you’ll be blabbing your secrets and chatting with strangers like they’re old friends. Three more, and the paranoid hallucinations kick in.

And then you’re dead.

When sixteen-year-old Kaelyn lets her best friend leave for school without saying goodbye, she never dreams that she might not see him again. Then a strange virus begins to sweep through her small island community, infecting young and old alike. As the dead pile up, the government quarantines the island: no one can leave, and no one can come back.

Cut off from the world, the remaining islanders must fend for themselves. Supplies are dwindling, fatalities rising, and panic is turning into violence. With no cure in sight, Kaelyn knows their only hope of survival is to band together. Desperate to save her home, she joins forces with a former rival and opens her heart to a boy she once feared.

But as the virus robs her of friends and family, Kaelyn realizes her efforts may be in vain. How can she fight an enemy that’s too small to see?”

Placing this story in a very small community had the interesting effect of intensifying the action.  It turns it into a true microcosm of what the entire world might be like under these conditions, but it doesn’t have the backdrop of huge sweeping disaster to contrast it with.  Instead, the isolation keeps the reader’s attention focused in a different way than most other novels, and it also makes what happens all the more chilling.  The author also touches on many of the elements that you’d expect in a disaster story—hoarding food stores, lack of medicine, houses with bodies inside—so that you don’t need the epic proportions of a typical book to get the feel for how horrible things are.

Even in the midst of all of this death, the author shows you some glimmers of hope.  While there are certainly a few troublemakers in the novel, most of the island’s inhabitants band together to take care of each other.  The best part is that it’s not in the fatalistic way that you see in many apocalyptic stories, where there’s safety in numbers and cooperation is a matter of necessity; rather, these characters help each other out of kindness and out of a real sense of community.  This may be a novel with disease and death, but there is much that is uplifting as well.

I found that I really liked Kaelyn.  She has a strong narrative voice, and although she’s young and often scared, her resilience shows a quiet strength of character.  The author makes a wise choice in having the tale told as a series of journal entries to an absent friend.  It not only allows her to believably set up her own backstory and give us information on herself, but it also lets readers into her thoughts in a raw and immediate fashion.

Of course, there is also the almost obligatory love story that nearly all teen novels have these days, but I think it makes sense in terms of the context.  Kaelyn is in a situation where friends and family are falling ill around her, and it’s natural to want human contact in the face of these events.  It’s occasionally just a bit clunky, but like I said, I can forgive it in light of how it fits into the story.

The novel is very effective in charting the progress of a rampaging disease.  And I’ll admit that after finishing it, I felt a little paranoid about people around me who might be sneezing and coughing a lot.  This is not a useful emotion to feel in the midst of allergy season, but it does illustrate the power of this comparatively lesser-known teen novel.  The Way We Fall doesn’t have the non-stop action of some of its contemporaries, but instead it quietly and insidiously walks you through a disaster that claims people one by one without mercy.  I’ll definitely be watching for the next in this series.

This review was originally posted on March 27, 2012.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Omega Days by John L. Campbell

San Francisco, California. Father Xavier Church has spent his life ministering to unfortunate souls, but he has never witnessed horror like this. After he forsakes his vows in the most heartrending of ways, he watches helplessly as a zombie nun takes a bite out of a fellow priest’s face.

University of California, Berkeley. Skye Dennison is moving into her college dorm for the first time, simultaneously excited to be leaving the nest and terrified to be on her own. When her mother and father are eaten alive in front of her, she realizes the terror has just begun.

Alameda, California. Angie West made millions off her family’s reality gun show on the History Channel. But after she is cornered by the swarming undead, her knowledge of heavy artillery is called into play like never before.

Within weeks, the world is overrun by the walking dead. Only the quick and the smart, the strong and the determined, will survive—for now.”

What popped into my mind after finishing this book is a quote that I’ve heard attributed to various people: “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” Or words to that effect, anyway. I would categorize this as the quintessential zombie novel, because all of the elements that you’d expect are here: young person turned badass, gun nut with her enclave, a man having crisis of faith, parents and children eating each other’s faces, cats and dogs sleeping together… okay, wait, not that last one, but you get the idea.

Basically, if you can think of a trope or common image associated with zombies, you’ll find it in here. Any gruesome vignette that might cause a reaction can likely be found in these pages. Bouncing baby undead?… got it. Plucky puppy’s last action is to jump into its strangely pale owner’s arms?… check. One sibling dies in another’s arms?… included. I could keep going, but you get the picture. That’s why I said that if you like zombie novels, you’ll like this one. It’s everything the zombie genre contains packed into one volume.

However, don’t expect to find much plot here. This is the kind of book that you read purely for fun and vicarious pleasure. No subtle metaphor for humanity’s downfall here, just hungry dead folks and the living people who run screaming from them. And you know, there’s nothing wrong with that. Not every book needs to change your life and elevate your consciousness; sometimes, you just want a little mental junk food. So, I had fun reading this book even as I recognized that it wasn’t really going anywhere. The characters just ran around and ended up in the same place at the end of the book.

I did find a few instances where the author seems to have violated his own “rules” about zombie behavior. For example, zombie move slowly in shuffling hordes… unless it’s more dramatic for them to run. In another example, zombies lose interest quickly in what they can no longer see… unless it’s more dramatic for a lone man (and his dog) to be trapped for days atop a massive storage container, surrounded by thousands of the living dead. Also, zombies are described as having low motor control… unless it’s dramatic for them to climb several flights of stairs and burst suddenly upon hapless military men. It’s not a big deal if you can just take this book as it is—a fun and fast-moving zombie novel—but it did cause me a few raised eyebrows.

So what if this book doesn’t paint exquisite pictures of humanity’s failings through the medium of zombies as a metaphor for our moral decay? It’s a neat little chomp-fest with tons of gunfire and shambling hordes. Omega Days is a great addition to the zombie genre, and would probably be a good intro to the genre for new readers.

This review was originally posted on July 16, 2014.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

Cannibal Kingdom by John L. Campbell

“Deep in an Indonesian jungle, a careless tourist releases an ancient evil that has lain dormant for centuries. Appearing as a virus, completely without symptoms and seemingly benign, Trident quickly infects the world’s population. Silently it waits, counting down to the moment when it will reveal its true, terrifying nature.

It is only weeks before the presidential elections, and Garrison Fox, a decorated Marine and devoted husband and father, is almost assured of a return to the White House for a second term. As the campaign nears its final days, the First Family finds itself scattered across the U.S.

At an Ohio rally and across the globe, Trident suddenly unleashes its horrible power, transforming unsuspecting people into merciless killers driven to feed. When an infected Secret Service turns on him, President Fox is forced to flee across an America plunging deeper into savagery with each passing hour.

In Atlanta, a CDC researcher will work against her own mortality in an effort to stop an extinction-level event. In Pennsylvania, a newly commissioned second lieutenant is hurled into a war for which he was never trained. And moving east toward a secure mountain bunker, President Fox must find a way to save his family, his country and his own life…if he’s not already too late.”

I’ve read Campbell’s Omega Days series, which also features zombies, and mostly enjoyed them.  There were times that I felt the novels were a little scattered or just didn’t quite hit the mark plot-wise, but I’ve kept up with them since they’re set in Northern California and I enjoy reading about places that I’m familiar with.  Seeing that the author had released a stand-alone zombie novel caught my curiosity, plus it got tons of good reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, I decided to give it a shot.  And I guess I’m just not the right audience for this particular book.

For one thing, the editing in this book is sub-par.  I found missing words, misspellings, and even homophone confusion (“principle” and “principal”, more than once).  At one point, a zombie is being autopsied, and the doctor cuts open the scalp and pulls the forward over the face to reach the skull, and yet somehow, the doctor sees the corpse’s eye twitch.  Another issue that I had was with the number of tired tropes the author uses–I’m specifically thinking of a female character on a deserted road who encounters the one psycho that wants to imprison and rape her.  And quite a few characters display tendencies towards the “lawful stupid” alignment, refusing to resist the urge to go roaming alone in zombie-infested territory or believing that it’s amoral to execute someone in the throes of turning into a zombie until they’ve actually turned and bitten someone.

The biggest gripe that I have is, oddly enough, the author’s attempt at a scientific explanation of the Trident virus.  Well, that’s half the problem, since the virus isn’t actually a virus, but the entire book focuses on explaining it like a virus.  And it acts like one, even down to the fact that it appears to be almost entirely similar to ebola.  But it’s not a virus!  Augh, my head… I wish the author had made up his mind.  In my opinion, it’s really tricky to write a book like this one where you attempt to use science, because you can’t half-ass it.  If you’re going to invoke science, you need to go all the way.  Here, the characters can study the virus/curse/thing and watch how it operates in the human body (but not animals, because Reasons), but the world’s top virologists can’t do a thing about it.  And at the end, the solution to stopping the zombies makes absolutely no sense, and there’s not the slightest attempt to justify it.

I hate to say it, but if this book was a movie, it would be made for TV and air Sunday afternoon at 2pm.  Good if you’re bored and have nothing else to do, but not much else.  If you’re an aficionado of zombie fiction, skip this one.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Mort(e) by Robert Repino

“The ‘war with no name’ has begun, with human extinction as its goal. The instigator of this war is the Colony, a race of intelligent ants who, for thousands of years, have been silently building an army that would forever eradicate the destructive, oppressive humans. Under the Colony’s watchful eye, this utopia will be free of the humans’ penchant for violence, exploitation and religious superstition. As a final step in the war effort, the Colony uses its strange technology to transform the surface animals into high-functioning two-legged beings who rise up to kill their masters.

Former housecat turned war hero, Mort(e) is famous for taking on the most dangerous missions and fighting the dreaded human bio-weapon EMSAH. But the true motivation behind his recklessness is his ongoing search for a pre-transformation friend—a dog named Sheba. When he receives a mysterious message from the dwindling human resistance claiming Sheba is alive, he begins a journey that will take him from the remaining human strongholds to the heart of the Colony, where he will discover the source of EMSAH and the ultimate fate of all of earth’s creatures.”

While the idea behind this story is interesting—what would happen if animals became intelligent and rose up against humans?—the execution doesn’t live up to it.  I think this is because there are too many digressions from the main plot.  As I saw it, the story revolved around Mort(e) and his quest to find Sheba, a dog that he knew before the uprising.  Early in his search, he falls in with one of the animal armies working with the ants to eradicate humans, and from there, the story starts to wander.  Mort(e) never loses sight of his desire to find Sheba, but he gets involved over and over again in activities that don’t advance that goal.

Something else that slows down the plot is the way the author inserts the backstories of other characters into the narrative.  One the one hand, it gives readers a somewhat broader view of the animal uprising; on the other hand, things went pretty much the same wherever the characters were.  It’s not necessary to know that the canine Wawa was owned by a man who bred dogs for pit fights, nor is it necessary to know that the bobcat Culdesac accepted human sacrifices from a frightened group of humans trapped in a church.

This novel doesn’t quite reach the heights of other anthropomorphic stories that have come before.  I think this is because books about animals tend to have something to say about humanity, and I don’t think that Mort(e) achieves this.  Other anthro stories delve deeply into the lives of the animals as they are, independent of any human influence, and obviously, this book doesn’t do that either.  It exists in an in-between state that does the story no justice.

While I’m pleased that someone is venturing into the anthropomorphic genre, this novel doesn’t exemplify what can be so compelling about such tales.  The sequel will be out soon, and I wonder in what direction Repino will take his story.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

The Remaining by D. J. Molles

“In a steel-and-lead encased bunker a Special Forces soldier waits on his final orders.

On the surface a bacterium has turned 90% of the population into hyper-aggressive predators.

Now Captain Lee Harden must leave the bunker and venture into the wasteland to rekindle a shattered America.”

Okay, the situation with this book is kind of interesting.  If you have an e-reader, you can get this book right now, but if you want print, you have to wait until May.  In fact, you can download the first four books by this author right now, but print is not to be found.  Not yet, anyway.  So, if you’re a print person, should you grab this when it finally shows up?

Well, that’s a hard call for me to make.  The answer is mostly a “yes”.  There’s no shortage of action in this novel.  Zombies are rampaging across the country.  Hordes of them converge on our intrepid hero, Lee Hardin, who often has minimal weaponry and little more than his brains to help him through dangerous situations.  He perseveres in his mission to rebuild society one little group of people at a time, valiantly braving danger to save the uninfected.

If you’re thinking that this sounds a little campy, you’d be right.  This is not a novel in which things are going to surprise you.  If you’ve seen a B-grade horror flick—or even a Saturday-afternoon action movie—you can see where a lot of this is going to go.  But, as everyone knows, sometimes those kinds of movies (or books) can be just what you want.  Not every story has to challenge and enlighten in order to entertain.

On the other hand, by following some of the tropes, Molles has perhaps unintentionally set up Hardin as something of a dunderhead.  He makes mistakes that even I, inexperienced at combat as I am, know are things that you really shouldn’t do.  There are also some elements that are so typical that I had to shake my head.  On the first page, not only do we meet Hardin, we meet his dog Tango.  The minute I saw that dog, I thought “Poor puppy, you’re just here to die, aren’t you?”  I won’t confirm if that’s the case or not, but you can probably read between the lines of this review and figure it out for yourself.

I enjoyed The Remaining for what it was: a quick, breezy action story, heavy on fighting and terribly injured bodies wandering around, light on any plot beyond “Run around and try to survive”.  I’m not sure if I’m going to go on to the next book or not, but it’s pretty inexpensive for an e-book, so I may just give it a try.

This review was originally posted on February 14, 2014.

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

World War Z by Max Brooks

“The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. “World War Z” is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.

Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.

Most of all, the book captures with haunting immediacy the human dimension of this epochal event. Facing the often raw and vivid nature of these personal accounts requires a degree of courage on the part of the reader, but the effort is invaluable because, as Mr. Brooks says in his introduction, “By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as ‘the living dead’?”

I’m not sure how I made it this far without reading Brooks’s zombie opus, but somehow I did.  Part of this was fueled by my husband reading it and not liking it.  What I eventually found out, though, is that his dislike stemmed mostly from the fact that the book wasn’t what he expected it to be.  While I’m not sure what his expectations were, I completely understand that preconceived notions can ruin a book.  In my case, I was impressed with the author’s handling of what can be an overused trope—a world plagued by the living dead.

I don’t know whether this is correct or not, but I’ve been referring to the format used in this book as that of the modern epistolary novel.  Rather than a series of letters, you instead get interview transcripts and reports of things happening after the fact.  In this case, Brooks steps into his novel as the collector of untold stories from the time of the zombie apocalypse’s first waves.  The tales span the globe, include accounts from doctors and politicians and “regular” people, and cover events both small and large.

For me, it was this global perspective that was so fascinating.  I think that just about every other novel that I’ve read about zombie uprisings has tended to focus locally.  In other words, its scope is limited to a main character or two and those in their immediate area.  Brooks avoids this in two distinct ways: first, he doesn’t assume that civilization would experience a sudden and complete collapse; and two, his account is written ten years after the official end of the zombie war, when the story collector has had a chance to canvas the world for vignettes.

It’s also clear that the author put thought not only into the effects of zombies on populations, but also on geopolitical views.  The Palestinian wall, the high profile attack at (and defeat at) Yonkers as a lesson in the use of weapons on zombies, the apartheid-esque Redeker plan—it truly makes this story take on the widest possible context.  I wonder if the author pulled out a Risk board and played through various scenarios.

Digging deeper, there’s a lot of commentary on human nature, government’s stagnating bureaucracy, man’s helplessness in the face of panic as well as man’s resistance in rising above it, and the divides among different peoples and countries that prevent us from really moving on together as a species.  I could do some detailed breakdowns of these themes, but I honestly think that it’s better for readers to come to them by themselves.  It seems likely that individual readers will take away slightly different messages and points of interest, so I’d rather not pollute the well, so to speak.

I wish I hadn’t waited so long to read this book, as I’m sure it would have informed my views on other zombie novels.  Don’t be put off by the walking dead—World War Z has a lot to say about humanity that has nothing to do with chowing down on brains.

This book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library Davis branch.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Feedback by Mira Grant

feedback“There are two sides to every story…

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beat the common cold. But in doing so we unleashed something horrifying and unstoppable. The infection spread leaving those afflicted with a single uncontrollable impulse: FEED.

Now, twenty years after the Rising, a team of scrappy underdog reporters relentlessly pursue the truth while competing against the superstar Masons, surrounded by the infected, and facing more insidious forces working in the shadows.”

Oh, I so wanted to like this book more than I did.  I so wanted it to be a worthy addition to the Newsflesh universe.  And oh, was I disappointed.

Don’t get me wrong–this isn’t a bad book.  It has all the politics and rampaging zombies that you would expect from Grant’s post-apocalyptic setting.  There were some memorable scenes included here, such as zombies used in an assassination attempt and two politicians meeting in a strip club.  (Yes, you read that right.)  I also appreciated that the author had such a diverse cast of characters, including a former stripper turned politician and a genderfluid member of the blogging team.

But alongside of that, Grant strayed into a certain amount of preaching.  We as readers get descriptions of what it means to be genderfluid, the plight of strippers and sex workers, women’s rights, and several more.  In a novel about a political campaign, some amount of such things are to be expected, but it happened often enough that I noticed and was pulled out of the story.

My biggest issue with this novel is that it was billed as being the other side of what happened in Feed, and to a small degree it is–if by “the other side” you mean the Democratic side of the campaign.  What this book doesn’t do, however, is add anything to the original story.  If you’ve read the Newsflesh trilogy, you won’t find anything here that is unfamiliar.  If you read this one first, you don’t need to read the Newsflesh books, because all the revelations therein are spelled out for you here.  The characters even make a point of noting that they know more than the Masons, the main characters of the trilogy.  And all those revelations come at about the three-quarters mark in the story, and the rest of the novel is stuff that doesn’t advance the plot at all.

I guess that adding more material to the Newsflesh universe satisfies the fans, so that’s good, but this book really didn’t do anything for me.  I thought it had more flaws than it had strong points.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com)

The Last One by Alexandra Oliva

the-last-one-191x300“She wanted an adventure. She never imagined it would go this far.

It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it man-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.

Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life—and husband—she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes.

But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.”

Wow… this one is weird and twisted and oh-so-deliciously disturbing.  Reality shows have gone this route in the past, even going so far as to stage post-apocalyptic scenarios, but imagine what would happen if an isolated person who had already encountered well-crafted fake dead bodies stumbled into the end of the world.  Or at least, something in the general neighborhood of the world’s end.

That was what mainly struck me about this book–the kind of severe mental gymnastics that the main character goes through as she progresses along her journey to get home.  Her struggles to find food are characterized as challenges staged by the show, and she sees clues to where she should be going in the most innocuous of things.  Worse, though, is her viewing dead bodies as “props”.  It’s completely logical, since it fits into the milieu of the show, but watching her walk past corpses and think of them as fake is very unsettling.

Zoo’s journey home is told in alternating chapters with a narrative about the filming of the show.  Here, we meet the others with whom Zoo became acquainted, although these chapters only refer to the people by their stereotyped “roles” on the show.  If you’ve ever watched reality TV, you know how people get branded as the “cool one”, the “bitch”, the “crazy one”, etc.  Here we get Tracker, Banker, Waitress and the always-fun Exorcist.  There are quite a few not-so-subtle pokes at the reality TV genre (like the nickname thing), but these chapters also exist to show readers a growing portrait of how Zoo could believe that she was still playing a game, as well as showing her survival skills, both already known and learned on the show.

There’s some interesting subtext about a certain amount of survival being purely mental.  Zoo has a code phrase that she can use to tap out of the game at any time, but even when she herself falls ill, she doesn’t use it, thinking that if she was really in danger the producer would rescue her.  The thought of that phrase also sustains her as she makes her way across a landscape that is increasingly hard to ignore as being real–she has the option to give up and go back to comfort (she thinks), but just knowing that it’s there is enough for her.

It’s so sad to watch her growing unease about what’s going on around her, and her efforts to keep convincing herself that what she sees is just part of an elaborate game.  Her struggles with the game are juxtapositioned with her struggles in her personal life–will she ever be ready to take the plunge and have kids, or will she just keep running from the thought?  It takes some terrible events to lead her to awareness of her wheel-spinning on all fronts.

Oliva takes a simple premise and spins it into something grand and challenging.  Ask yourself: could you survive?  And what would it take?

This book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

The Rule of Three by Eric Walters

the-rule-of-three“One shocking afternoon, computers around the globe shut down in a viral catastrophe. At sixteen-year-old Adam Daley’s high school, the problem first seems to be a typical electrical outage, until students discover that cell phones are down, municipal utilities are failing, and a few computer-free cars like Adam’s are the only vehicles that function. Driving home, Adam encounters a storm tide of anger and fear as the region becomes paralyzed. Soon—as resources dwindle, crises mount, and chaos descends—he will see his suburban neighborhood band together for protection. And Adam will understand that having a police captain for a mother and a retired government spy living next door are not just the facts of his life but the keys to his survival, in The Rule of Three by Eric Walters.”

In my never-ending quest to clear out my massive to-read pile, I picked up this book.  I’ve had it since around the time that it first came out and just hadn’t gotten around to reading it.  And since I seem to be on a kick of reading books that are about unhappy subjects, I figured that a post-apocalyptic novel would fit right in.

As far as the genre goes, this is a solid book.  It doesn’t reach too high by trying to go too deeply into the global catastrophe, concentrating instead on what a resourceful group of survivors might do.  It’s actually an interesting look at the various ways in which a suburban neighborhood might ride out a crisis of this magnitude.  The author has obviously thought all of this through, bringing up things that I’ve never seen in post-apocalyptic society building, like storing gasoline in the tanks of abandoned cars for later use.

There are plenty of hints that this community won’t be immune from internal strife.  Adam’s mother and Herb, the retired spy, are poised to lock horns over many issues stemming from Herb’s overly pragmatic approach to preserving the community as a whole rather than individuals.  There are also rumblings from a rookie cop named Brett, bringing to mind the current nasty views of cops being arrogant and power-hungry.

Walters’s writing style creates some odd situations, though.  For one thing, characters tend to fade off the page despite being highly present earlier in the book.  The best example is Adam’s best friend Todd.  He’s around a lot at first, and then he becomes an almost non-existent character.  Adam’s girlfriend, Lori, does something similar, going from a smart farm girl to someone who just wants rides in Adam’s ultralight plane.

Character-wise, I also wish that Adam’s mother had been played as a stronger person.  As a police chief, I would expect her personality to be strong, and as a female police chief, I would have expected that even more.  But as the novel goes on, she bows down to Herb’s authority more and more, only showing token resistance.  Yes, Herb has more experience in situations of this kind, but she cedes him a lot of power that I’m not sure someone in that position would have.

With this being very much the start of a longer story and needing to set things up, and combined with the glut of survivalist information, the novel can seem slow in parts.  Things intensify in the last quarter of the book, and I do think it’s worth it to get to that point.  Only time will tell if the story as a whole bears out the promise that I see in this book, but signs are positive.  I don’t think this will be a story that breaks new ground, but as I said earlier, it’s solid and should find a good audience.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

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