How’s your year going?

Last year I was a little late to the party. This year? READY.

Last year I got back on after a prolonged absence. I started reviewing books again, and tracking my reading progress. It also helps me keep track of books  I want to read, or have read with my brother as part of our two person book club.

In any event, I set myself the lofty goal of reading 79 books by the end of this year. Since I got such a late start last year I only projected 9, but wound up reading 59 since I count graphic novels as well. So far I’m off to a good start. As of right now, I’m at 15/79 books. They range from authors I just discovered to authors that I’ve been reading for years. There are graphic novels as well as regular novels represented. I’m sure that I’ll also be adding in some young adult reads, since Phoebe likes when I read books that she’s read. She’s super into Superhero Girls and Disney’s Descendants, so I know those will be among my titles for this year. (Speaking of which, I need to catch up on Descendants! I think I’m about 2 books and a movie behind.)

Honestly, the young adult books are really good. I read a Descendants book last year (Wicked World Wish Granted). It wasn’t bad – there’s many lessons to be learned about friendship, identity, and the consequences of your decisions. It was in graphic novel format, but there are several tie-in books that are in the series too.

I’d also like to get back to Jonathan Maberry‘s Rot and Ruin series. I’m anxious to see what’s happened with Benny Imura and his longtime crush Nix Riley. I also want to get back to Alessia Giacomi‘s Zombie Girl Saga, because the last Eve Brenner book I read left a really interesting cliffhanger. There are other book series that I want to work on, too many to list, in fact! Not to mention, I am woefully under-read in the world of comics. My plan is to change this up this year. I don’t want to be a superhero fan only based on movies. I’m ready to go full nerd.

If you’re on too look me up! Let’s be friends! (Feel free to send recommendations my way, either books you’ve liked, or books that you’ve written.)




Hungry for more zombies?

I have long been a fan of Christopher Golden‘s anthologies. The man has a knack for choosing really interesting stories, by really good authors. His collection, 21st Century Dead, is no exception. I read this book, cover to 21st century deadcover, in about three days. Every story is top-notch. In some stories, people are the heroes, in others, people are worse than the living dead. Each story has something unique to add to the zombie cannon. 21st Century Dead contains stories by familiar names, as well as some that may not be so familiar. It’s always so hard to pick favorites from anthologies this good, but I will do my best.

Jonathan Maberry wows with “Jack and Jill”, the story of two twins who shared everything, until Jack was diagnosed with cancer. Jill continued with school, while Jack began treatment for the cancer. After that, things weren’t the same. Jack and Jill continued to be close, but not in the same way. They couldn’t experience the same milestones, and both knew that one day he was going to die. Enter a rainstorm that quickly turns into a flood, which is apparently not scary enough. Then, Maberry begins the zombie apocalypse. Cue images of children at school set upon by zombiefied teachers, friends, and neighbors. Continue with a family’s struggle to save both their children and themselves on their farm. And finish with forms moving through the flooded corn fields, briefly illuminated by flashes of blinding light. Holy mackeral. Welcome to Maberry’s nightmare!

Just how far will a woman go to avenge her murdered husband? “Devil Dust” by Caitlin Kittredge has the answer! Lizzie concocts a strange powder from exotic plans in a dilapidated shack in the woods. With the powder, she visits each of the men responsible for her husband’s murder, passing the powder off as homemade meth. What happens next is harrowing, but strangely appropriate. You can’t help but root for her as one by one she decimates the people who took so much from her. Her vengeance almost makes the reader sorry for the sad-sacks she takes down. Almost. Until you read what they did to her husband, Stephen.

Brian Keene brings us a story of a little girl who has always been alone. “Couch Potato” details the struggle of little Adele, whose mother is an addict. All day long her mother sits on the couch and watches TV, passing in and out of consciousness. Little Adele is left to do everything for herself, bathing, brushing her teeth, and even feeding herself. Despite the neglect, she loves her mother very much and doesn’t want to abandon her when the zombie apocalypse begins. A kind neighbor boy offers to take Adele in, but she refuses. He helps her secure the apartment, and then goes back to his own apartment with his mother.

baby girlMy absolute favorite story was “Ghost Dog & Pup: Stay” by Thomas E. Sniegoski. I’m a sucker for animal stories, especially when I suspect the hero may be a Boston Terrier puppy. (I used to be afraid of dogs until my parents got a Boston Terrier puppy, then I learned to love all dogs. Though I’m a real sucker for a Bostie! At left is a picture of Lily, my parent’s Bostie.) A boy with a special gift is guarded by his faithful dog, Murphy. One day during a terrible storm, Murphy and his boy come across a strange stone in the woods by their house. Murphy saves his boy from the spirit within, but loses his life in the process. It’s up to the new puppy to win over the grief-stricken boy and become the new guardian. I was rooting for the ghost dog and his puppy partner the whole time (while wiping away the tears, Sniegoski knows how to wring them out of you!) I suspected the pup was a Boston because of the description of the bat ears, short and stocky frame, and the penchant for sleeping under the covers. Anyone with a Boston Terrier knows that they are notorious cover-stealers!

21st Century Dead is extremely versatile, and will have you on a rollercoaster of emotions the whole time. Some stories are scary, some make you question the norm, and others are tear-jerkers. Whatever stories you prefer, I guarantee you’ll find something in this anthology!

Suggested Reading for Teens

When I used to be a teacher, I would often overhear my students talking about zombies.  They played Left 4 Dead, Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, and talked 9781442402331_p0_v1_s260x420non-stop about what to do in a zombie apocalypse.  (If you were wondering, I taught middle school for three years, which puts my students at about age of 13.)  As an adult, I find that I can read whatever I choose.  My students, on the other hand, need more carefully selected materials.  I remember thinking that it was such a shame that there were no horror books on the reading lists.  That seems to be the one genre that schools avoid, and it’s a pity.

Over the course of my last year as a teacher, I befriended one of the parents.  She and I talk about pretty much everything and anything, and I count her among my closest friends.  Her son, my previous student, has the run of my zombie library (with his mom’s permission – I let her know if I think there’s anything she might object to in the books and she makes the decision).  That being said, I’m always on the lookout for suitable reading material that I will be able to pass along to my own future children so that they can know the joy I feel in reading, and in specific, horror.

There’s one book in particular that keeps coming to mind as a suitable entry-level zombie book.  Make no mistake – I read it when I was twice my student’s age, and I loved it, so when I say it’s appropriate don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s “tame”.  It’s very deep, and the characters have to survive a host of growing pains in addition to the struggles of living in a zombie-infested world.  Jonathan Maberry has a way with telling a story about young people in an apocalyptic world that is engaging and realistic.  His story Rot & Ruin, based on one of my all time favorite short stories, centers around two brothers and their tumultuous relationship.  Benny Immura’s last memories of his parents cause resentment towards his older brother Tom, whom he views as a coward.  The story centers around the two brothers struggles.  Benny struggles to find his place in the community in the shadow of his brother’s achievements (though he’s not entirely sure what they are, just that everyone adores his brother), and Tom’s struggle to help his brother grow up in a harsh world.

Any way you slice it, this is a great book, and it becomes an even better series.  There are four books total.  I have only read up to the second book, as I want to take my time.  Series like this don’t come around often, and I want to make sure the magic lasts just a little bit longer.  If there’s a zombie fan of any age in your home or family, pick this book up.  If you’re not sure what the big deal is with this whole zombie craze, pick this book up.  You won’t be disappointed.

Adams, John Joseph “The Living Dead 2”

Traffic sign alerting drivers for Amish Buggie...
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I usually don’t buy a book solely because it received good reviews.  However, based on how much I loved the previous book (The Living Dead), combined with Simon Pegg‘s rave review, I bought the book without a second thought.  Add to this the fact that the cover of “The Living Dead 2” is seriously scary with its horde of zombies.

All of the stories in the book were thought-provoking, once again proving that the zombie story can aspire to be more than just a flesh fest.  (Though I’d be lying if I said I was above that kind of story as well…)  In any event, The Living Dead 2 is a perfect follow-up to the first book.

The stories range from really sad to really humorous.

Author Brian Keene delivers a wild mash-up in “Lost Canyon of the Dead”.  I know I promised I wouldn’t give away any spoilers but this is too good to pass by !  A group of fugitives is running from a horde of zombies.  So far so good.  They find a canyon that isn’t on the map and decide to take refuge.  What they find there is a lost world complete with dinosaurs, an oasis, and no zombies.  That is, until the dogged undead decided to enter the canyon.  Several are devoured by dinosaurs along the way, which results in…you guessed it…zombie dinosaurs.  Very cool.  At first I thought it might be a terrible premise, but it is surprisingly good.

Bret Hammond’s “Rural Dead” takes a look at culture clash and the zombie apocalypse.  An Amish community must come to terms with the new change in the world, and adapt to the zombie plague.  Interestingly enough, I think if the plague were to ever happen, the Amish would actually come out mostly alright.  (They certainly would have a better directional and geographical sense, which would put them ahead of me by a long ways.)  The Amish also have to deal with humans who come to hurt them.

Do not, under any circumstances, let anyone under the age of 17 or 18 read “Zombie Gigolo” by S. G. Browne.  It has to be the grossest and most horrifying story I’ve read yet.  It’s indescribable.  And yes, the zombie really is a gigolo.  It is an interesting commentary for non-curable diseases though.  And I guess if you were short on material it could act as a cautionary tale.  But for what I’m not exactly sure.

“The Living Dead 2” is a great anthology book.  The stories are well-written and they are all top-notch.  I didn’t find a single bad story in the book.

Golden, Christoher “The New Dead”

Cover of "The New Dead: A Zombie Antholog...
Cover of The New Dead: A Zombie Anthology

This book is one of many that I read over the summer.  I’m just now getting around to blogging about it.

This book was pretty entertaining.  My favorite story was “Twittering from the Circus of the Dead” by Joe Hill.  I think it’s my favorite because I started out hating it.  I don’t have a Twitter account because I honestly don’t think I do that much in a day that I can honestly put on the web and have people want to know about.  I was glad that this story was at the end of the book, because I was contemplating not even reading it.  When I did, it blew me away.  The main character is the girl who is tweeting (tweeting?  is that the right word ?) throughout a family vacation.  They stop at a circus claiming to have live zombies, and everything goes to hell.  Great story.

Brian Keene’s story “The Wind Cries Mary” was really sad.  A husband watches each night at the same time as his dead wife shambles up to the door and tries to get inside.  He wonders if she misses him, and if she has the ability to think. He feels guilt because when the dead rose he didn’t have the courage to put her down properly, and instead placed her outside on the back porch.   There’s a really good twist that I’m absolutely dying to tell, but I can’t, because it will positively ruin the whole story for you.

An old fashioned voodoo story, “Delice” by Holly Newstein, tells the story of a young girl raised from the dead by a powerful bokor.  Delice is sent to the plantation where she was killed in order to kill the plantation owners who had abused her and several other slave girls.  This story is very graphic, both in the death scenes, but also in the treatment the slaves receive.

Even though some zombie stories are sad, so far only one has made me cry.  When I was about two to three pages from the end of “Family Business” by Jonathan Mayberry, I started crying and couldn’t stop.  It got so bad my mom came into my room and asked me what if someone had died.  I couldn’t stop crying, and the story stayed on my mind for several days later.  Benny Imura hates his older brother Tom.  He blames Tom for their parent’s death and subsequent zombification when Benny was four.  He remembers fleeing the house in Tom’s arms, but not much else.  Benny and Tom live in a gated community and when Benny comes of age he has to choose a trade.  He tries many jobs, and finally decides reluctantly to be apprenticed to his brother.  The community regards Tom as a hero because he goes out into the wastelands inhabited by the dead and puts them down at the request of the families.  When Tom takes Benny out into the wasteland to show him the job, everything changes.  Ok, so I might have lied earlier, this is my favorite.  “Twittering” would then have to be my second favorite.

There was only one story that I wasn’t really a fan of. The story  “Lazarus” by John Connolly was told from the point of view of Lazarus after he was resurrected from the tomb.  I’m sometimes at a loss as to what to think of zombie stories that get mixed too heavily with religious themes.  As I’m writing this review I’m paging through the story trying to remember what it was that I didn’t like about the story.  I think part of it was that I can’t remember the actual account of Lazarus in the Bibile, and so I know I’m missing out on something.  Anyway, the story itself wasn’t poorly written, it just “didn’t do anything for me”, if you’ll pardon the expression.  However, in the future I will not hesitate to read another story by John Connolly.  It’s not right to judge an author solely on one work, especially if you are like me, and can’t really remember why you didn’t like it in the first place.

All in all, “The New Dead” is a great book and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a variety of stories.  The authors are all top of their game.  This book makes a good zombie introductory book for someone who isn’t quite head over heels for zombies yet.  The stories are accessible to most readers, although I would caution giving this book to a reader who is very young.  Although the language isn’t very difficult, some stories contain themes that may upset a younger reader, such as rape.  If you’re giving this book to a younger reader, I suggest previewing it first and deciding whether or not the themes are too adult.  If you are an adult – have fun !  It’s a great book.