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“You’re my bread.” THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS by M.R. Carey – Review

The Girl 3D

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Genre: Adult horror
Publisher: Orbit Books
Release date: June 10 2014
Source: e-ARC from publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 407

five stars

What she thinks is: this could have been me. Why not? A real girl, in a real house, with a mother and a father and a brother and a sister and an aunt and an uncle and a nephew and a niece and a cousin and all those other words for the map of people who love each other and stay together. The map called family.

Growing up and growing old. Playing. Exploring. Like Pooh and Piglet. And then like the Famous Five. And then like Heidi and Ann of Green Gables. And then like Pandora, opening the great big box of the world and not being afraid, not even caring whether what’s inside is good or bad. Because it’s both. Everything is always both.

But you have to open it to find that out.

What a wonderful decision it was to read this book, which is now high on my list of 2014 favorites. There are so many things I’d like to tell you about The Girl With All The Gifts, but I don’t want to give away too much, because I want you to experience the surprises of the story for yourself. Luckily, the blurb doesn’t tell you much, but I sort of feel as if this is a hindrance, because as readers, sometimes we need to know at least a little of what we’re in for. So I’m giving it to you straight: this is a zombie story. I’m not going to tell you much else about the plot, but just in case you’re wondering, this is an awesomely wonderful, violent, terrifying, fascinating, beautiful and heartbreaking zombie story. You should read it if you love zombies. And you should read it even if you don’t love zombies, because it’s full of other great stuff as well. So in lieu of a normal book review, I’ve come up with my top ten reasons why you should drop everything and read The Girl With All The Gifts:

1. It’s a nail-biter of a survival story. Who knew? You certainly can’t tell that from the cover. This is a down-and-dirty survival story, no question about it. It will make you jump at shadows and hide under your covers. Somehow Carey combines thrilling action with terrible, creeping horror and it all works.

2. These are not your mother’s zombies. Carey takes zombies to an entirely new and mind-numbing level of scary. And he doesn’t stop there. These zombies are much more than the shambling undead, and you won’t be able to guess what they are until it smacks you in the face.

3. Fewer characters make for a better story. Instead of bogging down the reader with a cast of thousands (à la Stephen King, for example), Carey gives us five main characters and makes us care for them deeply. Each one, even the “bad guy,” becomes critical to the emotional development of the story. The action is fast and furious, but in this book, character is king.

4. There already exists, in the scientific world, the capacity for zombies to exist. Yes, folks, Carey delves into the scientific reasons behind his zombies, and he makes us believe them completely. I’m not a scientist myself, but I am now convinced (whether it’s true or not) that something like this could actually happen.

5. A zombie story can make you cry. Or sob, actually. Carey’s unassuming and spare writing style evoked heart-wrenching emotions. I grew to love and understand these characters so much, and each poignant moment snuck up on me. Tears, people, tears.

6. You’ll never take your childhood for granted again. Through Melanie’s eyes, you will experience the wonders of the world for the first time. Melanie is an innocent—and yet she’s not. Her wide-eyed appreciation of everything reminded me of my kids when they were little. Melanie’s entire world is built on the stories that Miss Justineau has told her. When things change, her world view must change as well. It’s a bit heartbreaking.

7. Zombies are violent, period. This story is no different. There are some spectacular gross-out scenes that rival The Walking Dead. Don’t let the innocent-looking cover fool you. Be prepared, people. That’s all I’m sayin’.

8. This story takes place in England. I didn’t know this when I started reading, and when I finally caught on it threw me a little. British zombies, yes, they are now my favorite!

9. The POV changes from character to character, and that’s a good thing. That’s how we get to know each one of them. You want to be inside each of their heads. It’s crucial to the story’s overall impact. To you naysayers who don’t like this form of storytelling, get over it! This time it works.

10. Oh hell yes, this would make an awesome movie. I hate turning books into movies as I’m reading them, but this one is so cinematic and perfectly plotted and paced, that the movie version unfolded in my mind unbidden as I was reading. (Oh, did I mention the author also writes screenplays?)

Have I convinced you? I hope so. This is storytelling at its finest, and I can’t wait to read what Mr. Carey comes up with next. I’ll leave you with a couple of my favorite quotes, quotes that won’t mean anything to you until you read the book:

“From now on, every day will be a Miss Justineau day.”

“You’re my bread when I’m hungry.”

That is all. Many thanks to Orbit for supplying a review copy. Quotes used in this review came from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version.

You can find The Girl with All the Gifts here:

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DARK METROPOLIS by Jaclyn Dolamore – Blog Tour + Review

DarkMetropolisBlogTour

Welcome to my stop on the Dark Metropolis Blog Tour, hosted by Itching For Books. You can read my review below.

Dark Metropolis - Cover Image - High Res

Series: Dark Metropolis #1
Release date: June 17th 2014
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Cabaret meets Cassandra Clare-a haunting magical thriller set in a riveting 1930s-esque world.

Sixteen-year-old Thea Holder’s mother is cursed with a spell that’s driving her mad, and whenever they touch, Thea is chilled by the magic, too. With no one else to contribute, Thea must make a living for both of them in a sinister city, where danger lurks and greed rules.

Thea spends her nights waitressing at the decadent Telephone Club attending to the glitzy clientele. But when her best friend, Nan, vanishes, Thea is compelled to find her. She meets Freddy, a young, magnetic patron at the club, and he agrees to help her uncover the city’s secrets-even while he hides secrets of his own.

Together, they find a whole new side of the city. Unrest is brewing behind closed doors as whispers of a gruesome magic spread. And if they’re not careful, the heartless masterminds behind the growing disappearances will be after them, too.

Perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare, this is a chilling thriller with a touch of magic where the dead don’t always seem to stay that way.

Find Dark Metropolis: Amazon | Goodreads

My review:

three and a half

The nitty-gritty: An unsettling story full of subtle magic, dark deeds, and the living dead, beautifully written, but confusing in some parts.

But how horrid to be glad, even for a moment, that her mother was gone, just so she had time to try on new hats. Mother’s words kept haunting her. I know he is alive! Suppose she was right all along. Suppose Father had lived through the battle, and the vision was a sign? If there was any chance at all, she had to find out. She owed it to Mother, who was now trapped behind the asylum walls, losing her precious memories.

If I had to sum up this book in one word, it would be “atmospheric.” There is a dark and brooding quality to this story, and it’s made even more dark and brooding by Dolamore’s beautiful prose. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I started reading, as I had heard all sorts of words bandied about from “zombies” to “magic” to “LGBT characters.” Dark Metropolis has all of these things—sort of—but I certainly wouldn’t classify this as your standard zombie story, nor did the LGBT aspects stand out as such. (Which disappointed me a bit. I would have liked to see a more developed relationship between Sigi (the gay character) and Nan, the girl she falls for.) Although parts of the story were confusing and not nearly developed enough for my taste, what I did love about this book were the emotional situations the characters find themselves in as they try to cope during a very dark and depressing time.

Dark Metropolis is based on the 1927 movie, Metropolis, a movie I haven’t seen, yet felt compelled to research. There are definite similarities in the story lines, but why the author chose such a depressing subject to write about is anybody’s guess. The story takes place in an alternate history 1930s Germany, where the war has caused many people to fall on hard times and magic has been outlawed. Thea is a young girl who works as a hostess at the Telephone Club, an upscale venue where the rich enjoy extravagant stage productions and are served by beauties like Thea. But Thea’s real life is anything but exciting. Her mother is suffering from “bound-sickness” since her husband died in the war, but she insists that he isn’t dead at all because she can still “feel” him.

One evening Thea meets a young man with silver hair named Freddy, and when she accidentally touches his hand, she has a disturbing vision of her father, rising from the dead. Shortly after, her best friend Nan stops coming into work, and Thea knows something is terribly wrong. With Freddy’s help, she is about to discover a world she never knew existed, a dangerous world where the dead are forced into hard labor and will never see their loved ones again.

From the outside, this doesn’t really seem like a story about magic. So when the first offhand mention of it came up, I was caught off guard. It turns out that since the war, magic has become illegal, and we discover early on that Freddy has a very rare gift: he can bring the dead back to life with only a touch, although whether these people he brings back are actually alive or not, well, you’ll have to read the book and decide for yourself. (I did love Freddy’s magic because it reminded me of Torchwood and the resurrection glove—anyone?) But Freddy isn’t the only one with magical abilities. Thea’s friend Nan also has some magic in her, but here is where things fell apart a little for me. Nan’s magic is hinted at but never really explained. We also learn about a spell called “marriage-binding” which magically links two people together so that they can always find each other. It seems like a good idea but it has terrible consequences. I guess my feeling about the author’s use of magic is that it just didn’t feel as if all these types of magic belonged together in the same story.

The pacing felt slow to me in the beginning, as we’re introduced to all the characters and trying to uncover the mystery of why so many people are disappearing, but it picks up in the last third of the book, and I was racing to turn the pages (of my Kindle) to see what would happen. Dolamore gives us lots of emotional and melancholy moments, like Thea’s mother going crazy from the bound-sickness because she wants to find her husband, and the consequences of Freddy’s reviving magic and how he comes to terms with accepting that his “magic” isn’t natural and is only causing pain. Many of the characters are downright sad, lonely, and simply trying to get by in a harsh city, and it was sometimes hard to read page after page of misery with very little happiness to break up the sadness.

Dark Metropolis is the first in a series, although honestly I can’t figure out where the author will go next, since this book wrapped up quite nicely (and no cliffhanger in sight, thank god!). If you love your stories dark, your characters tragic, and your magic subtle, then this book may be just what you need.

Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.

About the author:

Jaclyn DolamoreJaclyn Dolamore was homeschooled in a hippie sort of way and spent her childhood reading as many books as her skinny nerd-body could lug from the library and playing elaborate pretend games with her sister Kate. She skipped college and spent eight years drudging through retail jobs, developing her thrifty cooking skills and pursuing a lifelong writing dream. She has a passion for history, thrift stores, vintage dresses, David Bowie, drawing, and organic food. She lives with her partner and plot-sounding-board, Dade, and two black tabbies who have ruined her carpeting.

Find Jaclyn: Webiste | Twitter | Facebook

Big thanks to Shane Morgan at Itching for Books for organizing this tour. Click the button below to visit all the tour stops:

Shane Morgan

 

 

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Vamps vs. Zombies Blog Hop! Win a Vampire or Zombie Book

Vamps vs. Zombies Hop

Thank you to everyone who entered! Rafflecopter has selected Aleksandra Nakova as the winner! Congratulations:)

I’m super excited to be part of the Vamps vs. Zombies Blog Hop, hosted by My Shelf Confessions! You can hop to each blog that is participating and enter to win a different vamp or zombie item at each one. For my stop, I’m giving you a choice. I have an adult and a young adult vampire book, and an adult and a young adult zombie book. So no matter who you are, if you love either vamps or zombies (or both!) you won’t be disappointed. Here’s what one international winner will win (choice of one of the following):

Vamps

Young Adult: The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle. I’m going to be reading this soon, in preparation for the blog tour for the second book in the series. I can hardly wait, I hear it’s very scary…

Adult (18+): Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Oh you guys, if you love horror and you haven’t heard me gush about this before, you must read this book. Two awesome movie versions have also been released, a U.S. version and a Swedish version, and they are both soooo good. This book is terrifying! Technically, the name of the book should be Let Me In. The title was changed for the movie.

Zombies

Young Adult: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion. This is a fun zombie love story, and the movie was really good too!

Adult (18+): Monster Island by David Wellington.  This is actually the first in a series. Wellington has written both vampire and werewolf stories. This is his take on zombies.

Please note: final covers may differ from the above photos! I’m telling you, The Book Depository is driving me crazy with all their variations of covers! I wish they’d just pick one and stick with it. So depending on what’s actually available when the hop is over, that’s what you’ll get:)

Ready to enter? Please check here first to see if The Book Depository ships to your country, then you’re ready to enter! Simply click the Rafflecopter button below!

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Follow the rest of the blog hop by clicking on the frog:

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DESPER HOLLOW by Elizabeth Massie – Review

Desper Hollow 3D

Desper Hollow by Elizabeth Massie
Genre: Adult Horror
Publisher: Apex Publications
Release date: June 3 2013
Source: e-ARC from publisher
Pages: 226

four stars

In a word: Deliverance with zombies! Good bloody fun combined with comedic timing, an authentic southern back-woods voice, and an unexpected hint of heart.

Ain’t nothing else to do in Desper Hollow. Ain’t nothing else to do with my life but play with the lives of other things. – Jenkie Mustard

I started reading Desper Hollow right before I left for Comic Con, and since it’s a fairly short book, I figured I’d finish it before I left, no problem. Then I got caught up with packing and preparing for the trip, and I didn’t finish it after all. I thought for sure I’d have plenty of time at the convention to read (standing in lines, etc), but that didn’t work out either! Needless to say, I didn’t finish it until after I returned. But honestly, this is the type of story you’ll want to devour in a couple of days at the most. It’s fast-paced, gruesome and full of stereotypical characters that you’ll like nonetheless, simply because they are stereotypes and therefore hysterically funny.

Elizabeth Massie is a veteran writer and a two-time Bram Stoker Award winner, and I read lots of her books when I first started collecting horror books twenty years ago. It was so nice to be asked to read a book of hers after so many years, and I wasn’t disappointed. Her writing skills and pacing are top-notch.

The story begins shortly after a tragedy: teenager Suze Mustard has inexplicably gone crazy and set fire to the tiny Appalachian Mountain town of Beaver Dam, killing dozens of people in the process. No one knows exactly what happened to make her do such a thing (or why she cut off her own hand afterward), but from this horrid beginning the answers begin to emerge. The undisputed matriarch of the mountain, Granny Mustard, has been experimenting with her homemade moonshine, trying to make a magical brew that will allow her to live forever. But Granny’s experimenting went wrong somehow, and now the dead are coming back to life.

When Granny’s granddaughter Jenkie decides to carry on her experiments after Granny dies in the fire, she contacts a television show in Los Angeles to come and see her “hollows,” thinking it will make her rich and famous. But things don’t go quite the way she plans. As strangers and family members alike converge on Desper Hollow, it’s every man for himself.

I had so much fun reading Desper Hollow! Massie’s descriptions of the zombies, or “hollows” as Jenkie calls them, are deliciously grisly, as their insatiable hunger drives them to tear into the bodies of animals and yes, humans. Even better is the way Massie switches the point of view from character to character so we can see into the minds of these creatures.

What really makes this book shine are the characters. Not only do we have a whole bunch of Mustards who are all scary in their own right (some of them are gun-toting backwoods mountain folk who have their own way of dealing with trespassers), but there’s an emotional storyline between a girl named Kathy Shaw and her father Hank. (And you’ll see just how Kathy and Hank fit into the Mustards’ story when you read the book!) There’s also some comedic relief with Jack and Sam, two guys from Los Angeles who have made the trek to see if Jenkie’s claims about zombies are true. Ah, poor Jack and Sam. Their trip to Desper Hollow is one they’ll never forget…

One of my favorite characters is a hollow named Armistead, a man who was traveling through town when he was unfortunately attacked by a hollow. Now he’s a hollow himself, and has been captured by Jenkie and locked up in a trailer, living on the tiny creatures of the forest that are the only things Jenkie gives him to eat. What I loved about Armistead is that he isn’t quite all the way gone. He still has a spark of humanity left in him, and he even has a conscience. He knows it’s wrong to want to kill people, even if he doesn’t know why. Massie gives Armistead a purpose, and his mission becomes clear near the end of the story when he connects with Hank in a very emotional way.

Massie has a way of using very few words to describe things perfectly:

The insurance man is thin, wearing a white shirt and skinny black tie that looks like a snake flattened by a tractor.

I laughed throughout Desper Hollow, even as I cringed at the descriptions of Jenkie Mustard, as seen through the eyes of big-city producer Jack. I loved when Jack and Sam ran into some Mustards and Jack told Sam, who grew up in the area, that he must get them out of trouble, because “They’re your people, Sam!” I also loved the banter between Jenkie and her brother Bink, who is helping her control the hollows despite the fact that he thinks the whole idea of making hollows is ridiculous.

There’s a mysterious book of magic that turns ice-cold when opened, a book that figures into Granny Mustard’s success with raising the dead. Wait until you read what happens to the book by the end of the story—brilliant!

If you love your zombie stories sprinkled with humor as well as gore, Desper Hollow is a must-read. Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.

Find Desper Hollow and Elizabeth Massie: * Author Website * Goodreads *

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TASTE by Kate Evangelista – Review

“Everything may be the same all around me, but I wasn’t the same girl anymore. I’d fallen in love with a flesh-eating member of a superior race currently living beneath our feet.”

I “met” Kate Evangelista online and helped promote the trailer for Taste.  Later, I was able to convince her to send me an ARC of her book so I could review it here.  I’m so happy I had the chance to read this book.

Phoenix is a boarding student at the Barinkoff Academy.  She has been sent there by her father, a distant and gruff man who is having trouble dealing with his wife’s recent death. The students at Barinkoff Academy have only one strict rule:  all students must be off campus and back in their dorms by sundown, or face expulsion.  One fateful day, Phoenix unintentionally breaks curfew when she falls asleep in the library and awakens to a dark, silent room.  When she tries to sneak out of the school and back to the dorms, she runs into a band of eerily beautiful but dangerous-looking people who call themselves “Night Students.” The leader of the group, Eli, threatens to “taste” Phoenix’s flesh, but a suave and mysterious boy named Demitri comes to her rescue.

On the way back to the dorms, Demitri stops by the chemistry lab and Phoenix meets another Night Student named Dray, who mysteriously gives Demitri a pill. (We later learn this pill helps stave off the urge to eat flesh.)  Phoenix’s curiosity is peaked, and the next night she decides to set out on her own to get some answers about who these enigmatic students really are.  Before long she discovers several interesting things about them. They are a race called Zhamvy, or flesh eaters, who used to survive by eating human flesh.  Now, however, the Zhamvy are forbidden to taste humans, and subsist on a diet of synthetic flesh called yusha. Zhamvy Dray convinces Phoenix to help him with an experiment that will potentially keep the race from dying. What she doesn’t realize at the time is that Dray has infected her with a compound that will turn her into a Zhamvy herself. After passing out from the painful injection Dray has given her, Phoenix awakens to find Demitri by her side, and in an uncontrollable burst of passion, she bites him, unknowingly marking him as her property.

What follows is an emotionally charged narrative as Phoenix learns more about her new friends, meets some enemies, falls in love with not one but two Zhamvy, and comes perilously close to dying.  We are introduced to yet another Zhamvy hottie named Luka, who also falls for Phoenix. The drama culminates at the Winter Solstice Festival, where the Zhamvy Prime Minister Vladimir plots to overthrow the royal family and bring justice back to the race by allowing Zhamvy to eat flesh once again.  I found myself unable to put down the book once I started.  Kate’s writing is impeccable and flows beautifully, except for the occasional foray into overwritten prose (“I pressed a hand to my chest, preventing my heart’s attempt to burrow its way out.”) I love stories that take place in boarding schools, and this one had me hooked from the start for that reason alone.  The characters all have the right mix of charm, mystery and flaws to hold the reader’s interest, and the romance is well done and leaves you wanting more. I especially liked the character of Preya, Phoenix’s roommate at the academy.  She was feisty and interesting, and I wish there had been more of her in the story.

Kate’s creativity is abundant.  I loved many of the unique touches to the story, such as the fact that each Zhamvy has his own unique scent, like honeysuckle or apples. And the word itself, “Zhamvy,” evokes images of zombies but with Kate’s own unique twist to zombie mythology. We also discover that Zhamvy City is located under Barinkoff Academy, which is why the Zhamvy can stay hidden. I’ll have to admit I was a bit confused by this, although Kate does a great job of describing the hidden elevator that takes you underground, it was still hard for me to picture. And even though I also felt the “flesh eating” descriptions were too vague, I can see why the author chose to keep her story free of the usual zombie gore.  It wasn’t really needed, and after all, the Zhamvy are civilized.

One touching moment involves Phoenix re-connecting with her father near the end of the book. In a running subplot, we learn that Phoenix’s mother died of unknown causes, and the doctors were unable to save her.  Phoenix spends most of the book trying to make up for this by helping Dray save the Zhamvy.

Except for the rather abrupt ending, I liked the pacing throughout.  What’s clear to me after reading Taste is that Kate Evangelista has writing chops and has actually studied and practiced her craft.  For that I am very grateful, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

Many thanks to the author for supplying a review copy.

Taste is available in paperback or e-book from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can also visit Kate’s website here.

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HANDLING THE UNDEAD by John Ajvide Lindqvist – Review

Usually in this blog, I try to keep my reviews to current releases, which makes sense because I rarely “go back in time” to try to catch up with books I’ve missed.  This October, however, I broke that rule and picked up Handling the Undead, a book that was released a year ago.  I did this for three reasons. First, it was October, and I wanted to spend the entire month reading only horror (with the exception of our Book Club book).  Second, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s first American release, Let Me In, is one of my all-time favorite vampire novels, and I felt bad that I hadn’t yet found time to read his second book. Finally, I wanted to mention Let Me In in this review, because I liked it a whole lot better than Handling the Undead, and I want people to read it. I may even mention the two movie versions at the end of this review, so keep reading…

Handling the Undead is a zombie novel, yes, but at first glance, it is a kinder, gentler zombie novel with an unusual premise: what happens when everyone in town who died in the past two months starts coming back to life?  And what if these walking dead aren’t dangerous, but merely confused?  Do you take in your recently deceased father who stumbles back home and try to care for him?  And what about the dead who have already been buried?  Do you dig them up and save them from the confusion of waking up underground?  How exactly do you handle the undead?

It is August 2002 in Stockholm, Sweden.  One day the citizens in and around the area of Stockholm begin to experience strange phenomenon:  blazingly painful headaches, electrical appliances and lights that refuse to turn off, and a loud buzzing noise that won’t stop.  All over the city, fat white worms fall from the sky and burrow into graves, presumably bringing the dead back to life (although this is never fully explained).  The dead awaken, and they want one thing: to go home.

The story alternates among three groups of characters and their individual experiences. David, whose wife Eva is killed in a car accident shortly after the dead rise, and comes back to life in the morgue; Elvy and her granddaughter Flora and Elvy’s recently deceased husband Tore who shows up on their doorstep; and Mahler, a reporter who decides to exhume his beloved dead grandson.  

Mahler’s story in particular is the most emotionally engaging and elevates the book above normal zombie fare.  His grief for his grandson Elias is still fresh (Elias died from a fall off a balcony while trying to catch a ladybug).  Mahler realizes early on what is happening, and goes to the cemetery where Elias is buried, digs him up, and brings him home. Mahler’s daughter Anna, Elias’ mother, is appalled to see her son in this condition, since he has been dead for two months and looks it, but her motherly urges kick in and she and Mahler begin the task of not only keeping Elias hidden from the authorities, who are trying to round up the dead and put them in a holding cell, but bringing Elias back to his former state by feeding him salt water.

Like the shambling dead, the pace of the story was slow and lurching. I was on edge waiting for something horrific to happen, and it isn’t until near the end that we learn a dreadful truth:  the walking dead are meek and harmless as long as the citizens of Stockholm are thinking nice thoughts.  But when people become angry and start to threaten the dead, the dead strike back, and their true zombie nature comes out. The walking dead, you see, can communicate telepathically with the living. Once the anger and fear start spreading, things begin to quickly deteriorate, and patient readers will finally get the carnage they have come to expect from zombies.

In comparison to Handling the Undead, if I had reviewed Lindqvist’s vampire story Let Me In I would have given it five stars, so if you love vampire stories and the creepiness of Swedish novels, I highly recommend Let Me In, which is more atmospheric and dark, and has a more straight-forward narrative with less characters to contend with. Whether you read the novel or not, please consider watching the two movie versions, Swedish and American, which in my opinion are equally brilliant. The Swedish version, which was retitled Let the Right One In, should be watched with subtitles, rather than the dubbed cut which just sounds ridiculous. The American remake (which uses the original title) is just as good; in fact the two movies seem to have the exact same script and mirror each other scene for scene.

Halloween is over for another year, but don’t let that stop you from indulging in some great horror, either in the form of a book or a movie. As for me, I will make sure to read Lindqvist’s next book as soon as it comes out…

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ZONE ONE by Colson Whitehead – Review

Let’s get this straight: Zone One is a zombie novel.  There is blood, viscera, various bodily fluids streaming through the gutters, dead men walking, and heads being blown off right and left.  There is terror and running away and hiding from the dead.  There is a dying world without electricity, ash-covered streets, and bleak prospects for all. But Zone One was not at all what I expected.  And in a good way.

Zone One takes place over a three-day period, as a motley crew of “sweepers” works the buildings of lower Manhattan to clear out the skels and stragglers that pocket the island. An unnamed catastrophe has rendered most of humanity zombies, and the humans left unaffected have banded together in various scattered groups to try to stop the dead.  Our  protagonist, Mark Spitz (whose nickname is explained mid-way through the novel), is part of a small band of sweepers whose job is to look for the remaining skels (the walking, shambling, dangerous dead) and stragglers (the dead that don’t move and are frozen in mid-activity, but are presumably harmless) that are left after an initial military sweep and exterminate them. As they move through the city’s skyscrapers, floor by floor, guns at the ready, the story skips from present to past and back as Mark Spitz remembers the terrifying events of “Last Night” and other significant moments since then. 

Colson Whitehead loves words.  And that love is evident in every paragraph of this book. Fair warning: for some readers, this love of words will get in the way of the story, and for those who experience his wordiness as a mountain too tall to climb and give up before the end, I’m sorry that you will not get the full reading experience of Zone One. Whitehead’s descriptive talents are vast. He can take a seemingly irrelevant experience and turn it into poetry, and he does so throughout the book.  Because the world is ending, these descriptions become laced with a nostalgic yearning for times past.  As things start to go downhill, Mark Spitz remembers with a cynical fondness the better times since Last Night.  Even the grim reality of this ash-drenched world contains moments of small happiness: a brief stay in a toy store with a woman named Mim, a stretch of time living in a farmhouse in Massachusetts with a group of survivors and their fabulously executed kitchen, a woman called the Quiet Storm who leaves messages by arranging abandoned cars in artfully staged installations. Even the sight of his Uncle Lloyd’s city apartment as he trudges through his sweeper duties reminds him of how he used to visit his uncle as a child, and how much he has always wanted to live in New York.  Wish granted. And as the massacred zombies pile up, the body disposal teams are forced to incinerate them to keep the plague from spreading. What results is a constant rain of ash, “the dust of the dead.”  Even in this horror, Whitehead finds poetry.

What sets this novel apart from other zombie novels, however, is Whitehead’s ability to skewer the human condition in the midst of the world falling apart. His wry observations on everything from smartphones to internet auctions serve as a warning: don’t get too comfortable with modern life because sooner or later the world will end. Instead of worrying about climbing the corporate ladder, you will be running from a dead person that wants to eat you.  It’s a standard zombie story allegory: the consumers become the consumed. In Whitehead’s hands, though, the reader can actually step aside from the horror and appreciate the subtle humor.

Zone One is a series of out-of-order vignettes that when patched together form a pastiche of horror. To jump around in time and still manage to tell the tale takes skill. In the case of Mark Spitz, reading his story out-of-order makes a certain sense. The world is no longer functioning, and so the tale becomes fractured. Take heart, readers.  Be patient. By the end you will be able to look back and appreciate the madness.

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Read Me! ZONE ONE by Colson Whitehead – Recommended Reading

As promised last week, I am featuring Colson Whitehead’s newest, Zone One, in bookstores and online today.  Arriving on the heals of season two of The Walking Dead (AMC), Zone One is a Zombie Novel, one I am very excited to read. Yes folks, zombies are everywhere.  The trend is alive and well and not slowing down that I can see, and I’m glad.  Despite the fact that I watch The Walking Dead with one hand over my eyes, I love zombies.  Zone One has been described as “a zombie novel with brains” (Justin Cronin), and I don’t think he’s talking about the gooey kind. The story starts out with a typical post-apocalyptic premise: a plague has struck, and the population is either affected (and has become the living dead) or not.  The narrative takes place over the course of three days, as Mark Spitz (yes, that’s his name!), an unaffected civilian worker, helps reclaim an area in Manhattan known as Zone One.  His story moves back and forth from the present to the beginning days of the plague when he was fighting for his life.

Here are some great reviews:

“The kind of smart, funny, pop culture-filled tale that would make George Romero proud…[Whitehead] succeeds brilliantly with a fresh take on survival, grief, 9/11, AIDS, global warming, nuclear holocaust, Katrina, Abu Ghraib, Pol Pot’s Year Zero, Missouri tornadoes, and the many other disasters both natural and not that keep a stranglehold on our fears.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“This diabolically smart, covertly sensitive, ruminative, and witty zombie nightmare prods us to think about how we dehumanize others, how society tramples and consumes individuals, how flimsy our notions of law and order are, and how easily deluded and profoundly vulnerable humankind is. A deft, wily, and unnerving blend of pulse-elevating action and sniper-precise satire.”
Booklist, starred review

“[Whitehead] sinks his teeth into a popular format and emerges with a literary feast, producing his most compulsively readable work to date…Whitehead transforms the zombie novel into an allegory of contemporary Manhattan (and, by extension, America).”
Kirkus, starred review

As we get closer to Halloween, I have more zombie recommendations to share, so keep reading…

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