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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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 — The Night Eternal

“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 Night Eternal

Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Publication Date: October 25

The Night Eternal is the third book in The Strain trilogy, a horror-laced vampire-pandemic thrill ride that started with The Strain and The Fall. Co-written by the director of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy, these movie-ready books will keep you reading well into the night (wondering what that sound downstairs might be.)

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.

Horror for Halloween

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Horror and horror movies are booming, and just in time for Halloween.
Like other genres, horror doesn’t get much notice from book reviewers, but there really are some good horror writers out there. I wrote about Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box last Halloween. Since then, the son of Stephen King has published Horns, which starts out with the debauched main character waking up with devil horns sprouting from his head. The New York Times review said, about Horns, that Hill “is able to combine intrigue, editorializing, impassioned romance and even fiery theological debate in one well-told story.”
If you prefer a dash of science fiction instead of theological debate in your horror reading, try the vampire trilogy in progress by Guillermo del Toro (director of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy) and Chuck Hogan (author of Prince of Thieves, that The Town, the recent movie about Charlestown is based on.) The trilogy starts with The Strain, in which Manhattan is ravaged by a virulent strain of vampirism while CDC tries to play down the danger, and is continued in The Fall, which came out last month. There is a lot of cinematic action in The Fall, with a corresponding decline in character development among the small band of those left fighting the vampires, but we’ll see what happens in the third book, The Night Eternal, due out next year.
For many more suggestions for horror reading this month, check out RA for All: Horror, a new blog dedicated to advising readers about horror.
Check the Old Colony Library Network for availability of Horns.
Check the Old Colony Library Network for availability of The Fall.

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.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

A creepy one for October, Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box is one you won’t want to sit up alone at night reading. When an aging heavy-metal star makes the impulsive online purchase of a ghost to add to his collection of oddities and perversities, he gets more than a dead man’s suit in a heart-shaped box. Instead of getting ripped off as he expected, he gets well and truly haunted, as his past comes homes to roost.
The son of horror master Stephen King, Joe Hill inherited his father’s talent for telling a scary story. The New York Times called Heart-Shaped Box “a valentine from hell.”

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