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.)

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.)

Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

“Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about.

Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she’s just read in the newspaper:

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor . . . from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she’ll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including the maddeningly stubborn yet handsome Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.”

I was impressed with the character of Eleanor—she’s a high society girl thrust into a situation that would try the strength and will of anybody, and yet she doesn’t turn into a quivering mass of terror as the world goes to hell around her.  The author writes her with great believability, and her reactions are in tune with how I think a sheltered girl would act when confronted with zombies and ghosts.  She’s balanced between the understandable fear and disgust at what she sees and the courage that allows her to seek out her brother no matter what.

I also liked that, despite the location and time period, the author worked in some people of different ethnicities.  I especially liked Jie, the Chinese girl who bucks tradition by dressing in a boy’s clothes and who isn’t afraid to wade into a fight.  And I liked that she wasn’t just a token character, but participates heavily in the story’s action.

The mystery presented in the novel was well written and had some twists and turns that I didn’t expect.  Dennard scattered numerous clues throughout the book that all come together in the last part of the story in a climax that has some truly heart-stopping moments.  There are confrontations in a cemetery and in a massive exhibition hall.  There are explosions and chases and baseball bats wielded in self defense.  If you can’t find something to like in this book, you’re probably reading it with your eyes closed.

This novel is funny and serious by turns, hilarious and hideous in equal measure.  Something Strange and Deadly is a wonderful thrill ride through armies of the dead and the perils of choosing the right dress for an afternoon’s carriage ride.  I’ll be looking for the sequel with anticipation.

This review was originally published on July 24, 2012.

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

(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.)

My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

“Angel Crawford is a loser.

Living with her alcoholic deadbeat dad in the swamps of southern Louisiana, she’s a high school dropout with a pill habit and a criminal record who’s been fired from more crap jobs than she can count. Now on probation for a felony, it seems that Angel will never pull herself out of the downward spiral her life has taken.

That is, until the day she wakes up in the ER after overdosing on painkillers. Angel remembers being in an horrible car crash, but she doesn’t have a mark on her. To add to the weirdness, she receives an anonymous letter telling her there’s a job waiting for her at the parish morgue—and that it’s an offer she doesn’t dare refuse.

Before she knows it she’s dealing with a huge crush on a certain hunky deputy and a brand new addiction: an overpowering craving for brains. Plus, her morgue is filling up with the victims of a serial killer who decapitates his prey—just when she’s hungriest!

Angel’s going to have to grow up fast if she wants to keep this job and stay in one piece. Because if she doesn’t, she’s dead meat.

Literally.”

It’s getting more popular to write a zombie novel that is from the point of view of the zombie.  Most of the ones that I’ve seen thus far have gone the somber route, using the zombie’s condition to reflect on the ills of society and such things.  And while there is some of that in Rowland’s novel—Angel has multiple issues, not the least of which are drug addiction and an abusive father—the author mostly attempts to keep the tone light.  Admittedly, the humor can be a bit morbid at times—Angel’s frustration at bodies showing up at the morgue without their brains is both nauseating and comical—but gallows humor does work, especially in a story of this kind.

And speaking of “nauseating”, readers should be forewarned that there are some fairly graphic scenes in this book.  Angel works as a morgue tech, and of course there’s the whole “eating brains” issue, so parts of this novel are not for the squeamish.  Personally, although I found the concept interesting, I waited a bit before reading this novel, because it’s not a good idea for me to read gross stuff when I’m stressed!  However, brains and blood aside, the icky scenes aren’t lingered over and so shouldn’t cause too much distress.

I liked Angel as a character.  She doesn’t deny or try to gloss over her issues, and it takes the entire book for her to really start making changes in her life.  Rowland portrays Angel as a young woman on the very edge of losing everything—health, sanity, even her life—and having to pull herself back from the brink.  She may be named Angel, but she’s no angel!  She’s a down to earth young person with very real problems, but she never flings around an overabundance of angst.  Rowland found just the right balance between a bad kid and one trying to turn things around.

I wasn’t quite as enamored of the murder mystery that interweaves through Angel’s storyline.  I’m not sure why, but I think it was because I got the sense that Angel’s community wasn’t all that large, and a small community shouldn’t have quite as many deaths (and unusual deaths) as you see.  But this is a small quibble in an otherwise well-written novel.  Everything ties together in the end, and if Rowland doesn’t write any more about these characters, the book still comes to a satisfactory end.

My Life as a White Trash Zombie isn’t your normal tale of the undead.  It’s sharp and fresh, with a fast-talking and savvy heroine who practically grows up before your eyes.  If you’re looking for something funny and a bit off the beaten track, then this novel is for you.

This review was originally posted on August 29, 2011.

This book was a personal purchase.

(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)

Crossbones by John L. Campbell

crossbones“Leading the U.S.S. Nimitz survivors has forced Father Xavier Church to make some hard decisions, but he’s protected his flock. Only, his fortress is about to fall, and, this time, he might not be able to save them all…

Most people lost everyone they loved to the walking dead, but Evan Tucker didn’t have anything to lose. The folks on the Nimitz are the closest family he’s ever had. He’ll fight to his last breath to make sure nothing comes between them—no matter whether its the undead or the living…

Coast Guard captain Elizabeth Kidd has always been a consummate professional, the opposite of her cruel pirate ancestor of the same name. But the Omega Virus didn’t just change people into zombies; for some, the change was more subtle, and much more nefarious…

As the safe-haven of the Nimitz is besieged by vicious marauders and terrifying Hobgoblins, they come up against the most deadly obstacle they’ve faced yet, one they have no chance of defeating—the cruel whims of nature itself…”

One of the things that I’ve enjoyed most about this series is the action.  It’s like the prose version of a summer Hollywood blockbuster.  It doesn’t challenge your thinking and it doesn’t try to convey any deep messages.  It’s just a fun read with lots of shambling undead and explosions galore.  However, after reading this book, I’m finding that the author does have the capacity to shove too much action into his stories.

Taken individually, each of the storylines has a lot to recommend it.  As I just stated, there’s lots of things going boom to keep your attention.  The main plot centers on Elizabeth Kidd, a Coast Guard captain trying to keep her crew stable after the zombie apocalypse.  Things are complicated by the inclusion of her slightly sociopathic brother and her own fading sense of morality in this new and savage world.  I think the best part of the book is Kidd’s slow slide towards being amoral–she justifies things that she thinks are necessary and we get to see her acting worse and worse while supposedly doing “the right thing”.

But her story is just one of a bunch of things going on: an attack on the Nimitz from outside forces; a missing boy in the bowels of the derelict ship; the rise of a super zombie, or Hobgoblin, during the search for the boy; someone from the Nimitz going missing while on a helicopter flight; and of course, the long-promised earthquake (not a spoiler, as it’s plainly stated in the third book that it was going to happen).  For me, it was just too much happening at once, and my suspension of disbelief took a beating.

While still delivering some good thrills, Crossbones suffers from trying to cram too much into too small a space.

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

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

Drifters by John L. Campbell

drifters“Helicopter pilot Vladimir Yurish is a man of his word. The last thing he wants is to abandon the safety of the U.S.S. Nimitz and his newly adopted son Ben. Still, a promise is a promise, no matter how close to death it brings him…

Angie West has fought hard to keep strangers alive, but now it’s time to tend to her own. Only, when she finds her family missing and their hideout burned and looted, she realizes the threat to her family isn’t just the undead—the living can do so much worse…

Halsey has done well for himself, given the circumstances. Between his secluded ranch and precise shooting, the plague hasn’t touched him. Until a Black Hawk crashes on his property, bringing the war to his front door…

Amid the chaos of a destroyed civilization, the survivors encounter a new threat. And these new monsters can’t be outrun—or outwitted…”

If you had told me a couple of years back that I would be thoroughly enjoying a zombie thriller series, I would probably have said you were crazy.  I just didn’t see the appeal of the genre.  John L. Campbell is one of the authors that broke my preconceptions of stories of the living dead, and this third book in his series has all the action, campy thrills, and gore you could want in a zombie book.

I think that what I like about this novel is that it’s a straightforward action story.  A lot of what I read is more complex, and the Omega Days stories are a nice change of pace from all of that.  Understand, I don’t mean that as an insult.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with a good action-heavy book from time to time.  The problem comes when such books dumb down their tale to appeal to the lowest common denominator, but Campbell doesn’t do that.  For all the zombie slaying and daring escapes, the author does ask you to contemplate issues of morality as they might manifest in a post-apocalyptic world.  He just hides it in some kick-ass action sequences.

I think that readers will get really invested in these characters.  None of them are safe, and bad things happen to good people here.  Children are put in jeopardy.  Hard choices must be made.  Most of the good characters are “everyman” types, ones that you can easily imagine yourself as.  The bad characters edge close to being caricatures, but never quite get there, so you’re free to love hating them.  (Also, the bad guys tend to get their comeuppance, which is so nice to watch…)

Lastly, I like that the zombie storyline is changing and evolving.  It isn’t just “dead people roaming around eating everyone in their way”.  There are hints of other things going on–natural disasters threaten, and the type of zombie we see through most of the series may not be the most dangerous thing to arise from the Omega virus.  There are just enough teasing details of what’s to come to keep me wanting to read more.

Looking for a good novel for a vacation afternoon?  This is one to consider.  It’s not for the terribly squeamish, but if you can stand some blood and guts, this is a great example of the zombie genre.

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

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)