Big-Time Abandonment Issues: Quarantine, Book 1: The Loners

Cover image for QuarantineQuarantine: The Loners, first in a planned trilogy by two screenwriters under the pen name Lex Thomas, may feed young readers’ desires for another book like The Hunger Games (Moms having now moved on to Fifty Shades of Grey) but this action-packed thriller describes its violent fights to the death in more gory detail than The Hunger Games trilogy, and the characters (all high school-aged) are much edgier in language and attitude. Aimed at an audience of older teens who can’t get enough of the popular teens-survive-the-apocalypse stories, Quarantine: The Loners is also likely to thrill younger teens, with its aura of menace from attack by warring factions, and prevalence of casual sex (mentioned, but not described) among the ruins of a school.

Stronger in plot than character development, Quarantine: The Loners starts fast and keeps going, opening with a scene of desperate kids fighting each other in packs for airdropped supplies.

A black military helicopter eclipsed the view of the sky and lowered its giant cargo through the opening. Pallets of food, water, and supplies were lashed together into a single block the size of a school bus. The mass of supplies breached the slash and hung there, suspended by a cable forty feet above them.
The cable detached with a plink. The block of pallets fell. It cracked onto the ground and broke apart, scattering supplies all over the quad. As the helicopter retreated, an unseen mechanism mended the slit in the gray canopy. The kids on the perimeter bolted from the school walls and charged the mound of supplies. Colors collided. All around David kids kicked, clawed, and stomped each other to get at the food.
David never thought high school would be this hard.

On the worst first day of school ever for kids at the new McKinley High School (even worse for the teachers and administrators), David and his younger brother Will have just arrived and found their first classrooms in the gigantic, brand-new school building when the whole East Wing explodes as if from a bomb. Teachers and all other adults die immediate, gruesome deaths as if from some instantaneous Ebola-like virus. As David searches for Will to get him out and away from the scene of the disaster, lines of soldiers surround the school, armed with assault rifles and firing on any students who try to escape. Under armed guard, exit doors are welded shut and the entire building is covered in some type of tarp.

The night before, David, a former football star and good-times guy changed by the recent death of their mother, had made an enemy of the new football team captain (who his girlfriend was cheating on him with) so he is on his own, focused only on taking care of Will who is going to be without his epilepsy medicine in the months-long quarantine ahead. Loners are in grave danger of dying, though, in this new society free of adult supervision, as the high school hierarchy with football players and cheerleaders at the top solidifies into dictatorship and cliques transform into vicious gangs.

With a new school year approaching, Quarantine: The Loners is a good choice for August reading, like a pumped-up Lord of the Flies. Kids already nervous about the first day, though, may want to avoid this nightmarish vision of high school.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of Quarantine: The Loners from Egmont USA through NetGalley.

Quarantine: The Loners
Thomas, Lex
Egmont USA
July 10, 2012
978-1-60684-329-1
$17.99

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So You Think You’ve Got Tough Neighbors?: Zombie Fallout by Mark Tufo (AUDIO)

The audiobook edition of Zombie Fallout by Mark Tufo made me chuckle, grossed me outCover image for Zombie Fallout audiobook, and kept me in suspense in about equal measure. Narrator Sean Runnette is well suited for the voice of Michael Talbot, the forty-something hero-narrator of Zombie Fallout (and, I assume, of the next five books in the Zombie Fallout series) who is a sarcastic, family-oriented, paranoid, obsessive-compulsive, anti-authority, irreligious survivalist and ex-Marine. Luckily for himself and his family, Mike is also a fanatic about zombie books and movies, so when the first living-dead neighbor shows up at his back door, Mike’s house is already stocked with a full arsenal of weapons, ammunition, survival gear, and a large amount of emergency rations. Although he never actually expected a zombie invasion, he felt it was important to be prepared for contingencies. Mike, his two sons, and son-in-law are all skilled shooters; his wife and daughter don’t play much of a role once the fighting starts (which is right away), although they are credited with being highly effective in using feminine wiles to manipulate the menfolk.

Zombie Fallout started life as a 99-cent Kindle book, and that unfortunately does show in the writing. I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed reading it on my own as much as I enjoyed it as an audiobook because of the author’s frequent use of ten-cent words when nickel words that he actually knew how to use would have been better. This was less distracting in the audio edition, because Sean Runnette spoke the words as if they were right, so you knew what the author meant. Zombie Fallout isn’t even in the same league as The Reapers Are the Angels if you compared them strictly on writing quality, but Zombie Fallout is pure, fast-paced entertainment and has to be enjoyed as such. If you’re a stickler for correct word usage (not that that’s going to help you in the event of a zombie outbreak) you’d probably be too irritated by Zombie Fallout to enjoy the story.

I first heard about Mark Tufo on the Guilded Earlobe’s amusing blog post about how Mark Tufo’s fans gently remonstrated with him about giving the Zombie Fallout series only a B rating, causing him to invite the author and some of his most rabid enthusiastic fans to contribute a guest post expressing their thoughts on the series. In addition to posting humble remarks about his fans, the author responded individually to each potential new fan who entered the giveaway for the Zombie Fallout audiobook by commenting on the blog post. Mark Tufo is a good example of how an amateur, self-published author builds a fan base using social media and becomes successful enough that a traditional publisher – like Tantor Audio, which published the audiobook editions of this series – can bring him on board with a ready-made audience for his work. Although he now lives in Maine, Mark Tufo is originally from Massachusetts, so when I didn’t win the giveaway, I decided to buy my own copy of the Zombie Fallout audiobook.

Although the Talbot family has moved to Colorado, the frequent references to Massachusetts places and sports teams and to Mike’s New England-style sarcasm (Who, us? Sarcastic?) all give Zombie Fallout a local flavor, but you definitely don’t want to eat anything while listening, what with all the descriptions of oozing pus (and other disgusting excretions) and body parts coming off. Not to mention the fart jokes and all the insensitive comments that Mike lets fly in the heat of the moment. (Mike Talbot and Howie Carr’s ex-cop Jack Reilly from Hard Knocks would probably be instant buddies if they met up in a Boston bar.)

Zombie Fallout is a fun zombie novel that imagines how people might respond to a sudden, utter transformation of everyday life while not changing, personality-wise, from how they always were. Although there are a lot of gross-out moments (to be expected in a horror novel) and not much world-building, I have to admit that it did make me laugh!

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Zombie Killing Fields: The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell (AUDIO)

cover image for The Reapers Are the AngelsThe Blackstone Audio production of The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell, narrated by Tai Simmons, is a mesmerizing horror story about a girl who comes of age amid the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. Temple is a fifteen-year-old survivor who kept herself and her younger brother Malcolm alive for years, who never knew her parents and doesn’t remember the “old times” – the time before the breakdown of American society, when stores sold things, roads were maintained, families lived together in one place, and people stayed dead after they died.
This book was highly recommended by Becky of RA for All and many other bloggers when it was first published two years ago, but since it also got compared to The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which I didn’t get past the first few pages of, I never got around reading it. But when I saw during Zombie Awareness Month (May, in case you didn’t know) that The Reapers Are the Angels made The Guilded Earlobe‘s list of Top Ten Zombie Novels and Series, I was convinced that audio was the way to go with this one.
At first I wasn’t sure I liked the narration by Tai Simmons. Temple’s thoughts even as she skillfully dispatches a zombie invading the safe haven she was living in (a small lighthouse) were delivered so matter-0f-factly that her affect seemed almost flat, until. as the listener, I began to understand how stoic Temple has had to be to survive. Being afraid is a luxury she won’t allow herself.
This book has a strong air of Southern Gothic, so the slightly Southern twang in Temple’s voice goes well with the story’s themes of grief, revenge, and redemption. Temple is like a reluctant avenging angel in her now aimless travels, cutting down zombies with a single swing of her always-sharpened gurkha knife…but only when she can’t avoid it. The zombies are following their nature, she knows; it’s not their fault that they came back so many and so suddenly that they destroyed all but a few pockets of civilization.
This is the most literary zombie novel I have yet come across. The old-fashioned language, almost biblical, reminded me in many ways of The Passage by Justin Cronin, which was often described as a literary vampire novel, and Temple’s precocious maturity reminded me of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Be forewarned, however. There will be blood. And gore. And dismemberment. Beyond Faulkner’s wildest dreams.

Other opinions on The Reapers Are the Angels audiobook (all good):
Audiobook Heaven
dog eared copy

SFF Audio

Disclosure: I listened to a copy of The Reapers Are the Angels borrowed from the public library.

Zombies All Around: Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry (Audio)

Here’s one to recommend to guys who steer clear of the young adult books because of all the girls dressed in long, flowing gowns on them (as observed by Stephanie at Read in a Single Sitting).
Rot & Ruin, the first YA book by horror author Jonathan Maberry is set in a near-future dystopia. Familiar, yes, but this YA dystopian novel has ZOMBIES. Plus, none of this killing somebody only by accident because you aren’t the kind of person who can kill somebody even when you’re fighting for your very life. Rot & Ruin has real fighting, with swords, guns, knives, rocks, and pitchforks (if necessary). There is dismemberment and worse in this human coming-of-age story, but also a flinty romance and a family reconciliation. So it’s not all body parts and zombies!
Fifteen-year-old Benny Imura and his friends – Nix, Chong, and Morgie – are normal teens growing up in the town of Mountainside, needing after-school jobs. Benny is regretting his vow to Chong not to date within their crew, now that he’s been seeing Nix (the only girl) with new eyes and knows that Morgie didn’t make the same vow. Normal teen stuff, except that if Benny and his friends don’t find jobs after turning fifteen, their food rations get cut in half. Also, their job options include fence tester, carpet coat salesman, and zombie spotter (excellent vision required).
As Benny eventually realizes, the “town” he’s always known is really just a frightened band of humans who fenced themselves in after the zombie apocalypse known as First Night – tightly rationing resources ever since, living in fear of the hungry zombie hordes beyond the fence, in the no-man’s land known as the Rot and Ruin.
The Recorded Books audio version of Rot & Ruin, narrated by Brian Hutchison, was hard to get through my library, but I recommend reading this one instead of listening to it, anyway. With the audio, I noticed lo-o-ong stretches of other characters’ explaining things to Benny, filling him (and us) in on the backstory. I think if I had been reading instead of listening, these long breaks in the action wouldn’t have stuck out so much. Also, the narration on the audiobook sounds very adult, not like a fifteen-year-old boy, as The Guilded Earlobe points out.
Recommend this one to teens looking for something to read while waiting for the next in The Ranger’s Apprentice series, or for something after The Hunger Games trilogy, if they’re not afraid of zombies. There’s action, adventure, a reluctant romance, and…a sequel! (Dust and Decay)

Other opinions on Rot & Ruin (mostly good):
The Guilded Earlobe
Milk and Cookies
Paperback Dolls

Waiting on Wednesday

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating. This week’s pre-publication “can’t-wait-to-read” selection is:


The Leftovers

Tom Perrotta

Publication Date: August 30

Some writers write with such easy humor and fond understanding of their characters, however absurdly they’re behaving, that I’m willing to follow those writers wherever their muse takes them. Tom Perrotta is one of those writers. If he wants to write about what happens when 100 members of a community disappear in what seems to be some type of Rapture event, then I want to read about it.

Brains: A Zombie Memoir by Robin Becker

When English professor Jack Barnes is turned into a zombie but retains his reason, his ability to write, and his recollection of pop-culture trivia, he feels compelled to gather together and lead a small band of others who are smarter than your average zombie into a New World of zombies co-existing peaceably with humans. Each member of his literally raggedy-ass and decomposing group has a unique talent in addition to a spark of remaining human intelligence. One can run instead of shuffling along with arms out in front in classic zombie style; another can talk while most lose all powers of speech and can only emit zombie-like moans; yet another is handy with a gun.

If you’ve had Max Brook’s critically acclaimed zombie novel, World War Z, on your to-read list but only have time for a shorter book now that holidays are looming, Brains: A Zombie Memoir is a good choice. If you like campy, ironic takes on zombie lore and human pop-culture a la the movie Shaun of the Dead (which, surprisingly, is a movie  Zombie-Professor Jack doesn’t refer to) or if you want to test your own cultural knowledge by seeing how many references and allusions you get in 182 pages packed full of them, Brains: A Zombie Memoir is for you. That is, as long as you can deal with zombies craving human brains and eating them like caviar straight from the skull and then — when the brains are gone — moving on to other body parts and viscera. In author Robin Becker‘s vision of the zombie apocalypse, it’s definitely a zombie-eat-human world.

The Passage by Justin Cronin

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Yes, The Passage by Justin Cronin is about vampires, but they’re the scary kind, not the sexy ones that have been popping up all over the place. The vampires in The Passage don’t talk, wear capes, or have six-pack abs.
Because book reviews so often give away too much of a book’s plot, I avoid reading them before I’ve read the book. I usually skim the reviews just enough to get a sense of whether I want to read the book or not. That’s how I came to the end of the 766-page blockbuster summer read of 2010, The Passage, and found out that the story doesn’t end at the end. The Passage is the first book in a planned trilogy. A favorite blogger, the reader’s advisory librarian at the Berwyn (IL) Public Library tried to warn me. Most other reviews — including The Washington Post’s and The Boston Globe’s — mention it too.
Should you devote such a large chunk of your own reading time to The Passage? Yes, if you’re in the mood to race through a engrossing science fiction/horror story, stemming from the apocalyptic idea that we humans are on the verge of destroying ourselves with our own scientific advances. Definitely yes, if you liked Stephen King’s The Stand. No, if you can’t abide scary books or science fiction, or are just too impatient with the whole idea of yet another vampire novel, no matter what kind of literary pedigree the author may have.
Check availability in the Old Colony Library Network catalog here.

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