Married life for Sarah and David is anything but a picturesque, ideal union. After eight years of not-so-happily wedded bliss, their relationship is on the ropes, waiting for the knockout punch that culminates in divorce. Though the young couple has been attempting to work through their issues with marriage counseling, Sarah knows it’s just about time to throw in the towel (put it this way: when you start to google “divorce lawyers” on the shared home computer and notice that you don’t even have to type the whole phrase for it to pop up in your browser history, it’s not a good sign). On what turns out to be their last trip to their therapist’s office, the couple is too busy playing relationship stratego to notice the disaster of apocalyptic proportions happening around them. Only when they see their usually impeccable therapist, Dr. Kelly, covered in viscera whilst ravenously devouring the still-warm corpses of the Wilson couple do Sarah and David begin to suspect that the proverbial shit has hit the fan. But all is not lost! For even as civilization crumbles around the troubled couple, even as they find themselves fighting for survival against the undead horde, even as they stave off fellow survivors (including insane cultists and an adorably clueless former-cheerleader), Sarah and David inexplicably find that a zombie apocalypse is just what they needed to finally get those pesky marriage therapy techniques to work. Together, the couple discovers the key to rekindling their mutual affection: a few good melee weapons, some firearms, and the end of the world.
A ZomRomCom in the manner of Shaun of the Dead, Married with Zombies is a compulsively readable, ridiculously fun novel. Narrated entirely from Sarah’s (hilarious) first-person perspective, this first novel in a planned zombie series might not have anything original to bring to the zombie dinner table – but it manages to sneak up on you and take you by surprise with its wry, potty-mouthed, absurdist sense of humor. I say take you by surprise, because from a pure plotting and worldbuilding perspective, Married with Zombies is pretty middle of the road zombie fare. Tropes abound (e.g. religious fanatics always rear their loony heads in apocalypses, and this novel is no exception), zombies are of the slow-moving, virus-escaped-from-a-laboratory variety, transmitted through biting/scratching, etc. And yet…there’s something irresistible about Married with Zombies. And that, my friends, lies with its characters and narrative voice.
As anyone that has ever been in a long term relationship can attest to, things aren’t always ponies and rainbows when it comes to a significant other, and part of the magic of Married with Zombies is this wonderful mix of the relatable frustrations of coupledom blended with the disastrous outbreak of the zombie apocalypse. It’s the characters, Sarah and David in particular – and not so much the zombies – that make this novel work. I freaking love Sarah and her narration as from page one she’s not afraid to swear like a sailor or get her hands dirty (literally). Sarah (somewhat understandably) feels resentment for her husband’s apathetic position in life after he drops out of grad school and refuses to get a real job. That said, she’s also quick to snap at those that annoy her, she’s argumentative and wholly unrelenting. On the other side of the spectrum, David plays the passive aggressive game, refusing to confront his issues or deal with conflict. At least, that’s how the couple begins the book – because a few chapters deep, the truth starts coming out, baby. Finally forced to confront their issues and decide whether or not they really care for each other (as the couple finds themselves in actual life or death scenarios), it’s kind of sweet how they reconnect over bludgeoning walking, ravenous corpses. At least…I found it romantic.
By the end of the novel, both characters grow so much and finally figure out what they want out of their wasted world. I personally loved the ride. Despite the fact that Married with Zombies walks a well-beaten road, I finished the book and, like any good zombie, was filled with the unholy desire for MORE. Err, more books, that is. Not brains. I immediately purchased book 2, and checked to make sure I have a copy of book 3. Mmmm. More. Braaaaaains.(less)
I absolutely loved The Forest of Hands and Teeth - it was one of my top 10 books of 2008 - and while I wasn't quite as blown away by The Dead-Tossed Waves, the second book in the series, I loved the book and eagerly awaited the third novel. The only reason I took so long reading this book is because I didn't want the series to end... is that selfish of me?
For every year of her life, the scarred, isolated Annah has survived and endured. When she was five, she survived the Forest of Hands and Teeth with the help of her friend Elias - though it came at the cost of leaving her twin sister behind. In the maze of brutal desperation that is the Dark City, Annah and Elias have grown up pretending to be brother and sister, clinging to each other for solace. But when Elias decides to leave and join the Recruiters, the protective forces charged with hunting down the infected undead, Annah is left alone for the first time and forced to fend for herself. Keeping her head down to avoid the cruel, prying eyes of others, Annah makes her solitary way through a bleak life of endless gray, clinging to the hope that Elias will soon return to her.
After three years without word from Elias, though, Annah must deal with the reality that he may not ever be returning. As she chooses to leave the Dark City to make her own path and discover what may have happened to her family in the forest, fate has her come across a girl that looks like a smoother, unscarred version of herself - Annah's twin sister, Gabry. Proud and beautiful, Gabry stands up to the cruel Recruiters that guard the bridge to the Dark City from the Neverlands, as does a haunted looking young man that is somehow immune to the undead, named Catcher. In return for her defiance, the Recruiters take Gabry prisoner, all while Annah watches on helpless to stop them. As Annah desperately tries to rescue her twin, drawing the eye of more Recruiters, Catcher insinuates himself into Annah's life and is determined to help her - for the sake of his friend Gabry, and because of a promise he made to Elias.
Catcher and Annah's struggles, though terrifying, become inconsequential as a sleeping horde of thousands of unconsecrated move on the Dark City, overwhelming its defenses and infecting with each bite of their gnashing teeth. Annah and Catcher are desperate to find Gabry and Elias, and bring the group to safety. In this cold world, though, safety comes at an impossible premium - in return for the shelter of the Recruiters, paid for by Catcher's unique immunity and ability to scavenge undetected by the undead, Annah, Gabry and Elias's lives hang in the balance. In order to truly live, not just survive day to day in a listless experience defined by fear, Annah knows she must find a way to escape her prison and lead those she loves to safety. But even if she can leave, where is there to go in a world overrun by so much death and hopelessness?
In the third and final novel of this series, author Carrie Ryan is brutal, unrelenting, and masterfully sadistic with her readers. Let me just put it this way: The Dark and Hollow Places is pretty damn awesome. Continuing the story told in The Dead-Tossed Waves from the perspective of heroine Gabry's long-lost twin Annah, The Dark and Hollow Places slightly overlaps with the last book before moving on, bringing to a conclusion the threads of the previous novel. While I think The Forest of Hands and Teeth's Mary, with her dreams of the ocean and a future beyond the stifling fences of her village, will always be my favorite of the trio, Annah is a close second. Though she is Gabry's identical twin, Annah's experiences have scarred her, literally and figuratively. While Gabry has grown up safe and loved by her mother, Annah's life has been one of pain, quiet, and struggle. While Gabry did not remember anything of her past, not even the fact that she had a twin sister or how they were separated in a fearful trek through the forest of hands and teeth, Annah has never forgotten the twin she left behind and shoulders the heavy burden of guilt for that decision every day of her life. While Gabry skin is smooth and unmarred, her mannerisms self assured and beautifully proud, Annah uses the barbed-wire scars that run down her face and body as both shield and weapon.
Most importantly, Annah is a fighter. Unlike her more sheltered sister, Annah has been forced to survive in the Dark City and make it on her own when Elias leaves. When Catcher enters the picture, Annah resists putting herself in anyone else's hands, determined to take care of herself and be beholden to no one. Of course, while Annah's determination and strength is something to be admired, it's also a double-edged sword as she holds everyone away from her to protect herself. I loved the tension between Annah and Gabry, as Annah fights resentment and love for the sister that has the kind of life Annah could not. But rather than succumb to bitterness, I loved that Annah finds a way to not only reconcile with her sister and Elias, who abandoned her, but to embrace the experiences that have shaped Annah as a person.
The other characters in this piece are more varied. Annah's counterpart is Catcher, who we met in The Dead-Tossed Waves, who struggles with the gift and curse of his immunity - a gift, because he can walk through the unconsecrated untouched; a curse because the Recruiters use his ability to scavenge for supplies and hold those he loves hostage. The relationship that blossoms between the scarred Annah and the broken Catcher seems, perhaps, inevitable, but for the most part I believed it (even if the degree of their attachment seemed to happen awfully quickly). Gabry is given a different dimension in this book through Annah's narrative, too, and she emerges as more sympathetic than she may have been in the last book. Interestingly, Elias comes off as kind of a jerk in this book, having left Annah on her own in a terrifying city to join the Recruiters for some questionable reasons (and after a big incident that has left Annah even more emotionally wounded). My only serious character qualms extend to the villainous Recruiters - who seem almost uniformly, predictably villainous. The cruel, woman-brutalizing, violent army types are a tired staple in zombie fiction, and in The Dark and Hollow Places this trope is in full force. I so wanted Ox, the leader of the Recruiters, to have more depth and texture as a character, and while he seems to understand Annah in a way that others do not, this character's particular end came off as a bit melodramatic.
From a plotting perspective, I loved that we get even more concrete answers in this book. The Dark City is given a historical context and we learn just how long the unconsecrated have been walking the earth. We learn about the hordes, the overwhelming infection that has taken over the world (if we are to believe Ox and the Recruiters' map). There are no further "breakers" in this novel, but there wouldn't be with a horde on the move, with so many infected around. We also learn, at the very end, just who Annah and Gabry really are.
Like the other books, there is an oppressiveness and bleakness when we learn of the extent of the infection and how there might not be any escape anywhere as the Dark City and the Neverlands fall. But there's also the resilient underlying theme of hope and love, ever important in a future so bleak.
The Dark and Hollow Places is a haunting book with a strong heroine, a compelling storyline, and answers questions raised in the prior books. I can only hope that there will be more from Ms. Ryan in this world (even if the planned trilogy is completed), but Annah's is a perfect, bittersweet note on which to end the series. One of my notable reads of 2011, and absolutely recommended. (less)
Listen closely. Do not draw attention to yourself. Once you have found a secure location, stay where you are...moreOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Listen closely. Do not draw attention to yourself. Once you have found a secure location, stay where you are and help will come soon.
This is not a test. Listen closely. This is not a test.
On the day that Sloane Price decides to kill herself, the world ends.
Wait. Let me start again, six months earlier --
One day, out of the blue, Sloane's 19 year old sister Lily runs away, leaving Sloane utterly on her own. In the months following, Sloane's life turns into a bleak, nightmare of fear and pain from which there is no escape. Sloane has, alone, absorbed the brunt of her abusive father's fury - and after six months, she has no more to give.
Now. Back to the beginning --
On the day that Sloane Price decides to kill herself, the world ends.
The dead come back to life, and Sloane finds herself banded together with a group of five other high school students. The six have made their painstaking way across their ravaged town and have only barely managed to reach Cortege High, taking refuge in the school's strategic location, its stores of water and food. Together, the group grapples with the loss of their families, they struggle to make peace with each other, and to survive the horror that lurks outside their makeshift barricades.
For Sloane, whose world had already ended with the loss - the abandonment - of her older sister, she struggles to find meaning in a world where life has already been sapped of any value or purpose.
Wow. I haven't read any of Courtney Summers' work before, but This is Not a Test is one hell of a place to start. With sparse, beautiful prose, and a deeply disturbing, resonant character in the narrator of Sloane, This is Not a Test is, beyond a doubt, one of my favorite books of 2012.
The best works of apocalyptic fiction (particularly of the zombie persuasion) force readers to confront the essence of human nature when pushed to the brink, or when facing unspeakable devastation. Summers' novel does exactly that, but through the lens of an already deeply hurt character who is so desperately grasping for meaning in a senseless world. Sloane's world just happens to have zombies in it. The bulk of the novel takes place within Cortege High School's barricaded walls and does play with many familiar zombie tropes - the need for supplies, for protection, the immediate distrust of outsiders, the common ways to become infected and kill those infected...you know the drill. Instead of being mundane, however, Summers' take on zombies focuses more on the human factor and the struggles within each of her core characters. It is through Sloane's words and her unique perspective of bone-chilling dissonance, that This is Not A Test surpasses the mere label of zombie novel, and becomes a truly, utterly powerful work.
Related through Sloane's brutal, cutting first-person narration, reading the book is a claustrophobic and harrowing experience. Sloane frequently slips away from the detail of the present to a more stream-of-consciousness type of internalization, always with the crushing weight of loss at the forefront of her mind. And that's really the key - loss. More than mere grief or fear, it is the palpable sense of loss that characterizes This is Not a Test. From the loss of loved ones, to the loss of civilized society, to the loss of any kind of tractable sense of life as it once was, this gaping, aching hole punched through a ruined world - due to the walking dead, or to a sister's abandonment - is the novel's defining theme.
From a character perspective, This is Not a Test also plays with some familiar tropes, but excels in terms of development, heart, and depth. Our motley crew comprises familiar figures in the zombie apocalypse space - the aggressive hotheaded dissenter, the coolly assured leader, the peacekeeping appeaser, and all the others that fall on one side or the other. Yet, while these broad strokes seem fairly stock, the characters in This Is Not a Test are not devoid of their own color. I love the tension between the angry, frustrated jock Trace and the calm, calculating leadership of Cary, just as I love the unconditional love and understanding between twins Grace and Trace (cute names, right). There's the sniveling nobody, Harrison, and the quietly observant Rhys who watches Sloane carefully. And then of course, there's Sloane herself, who remains distant from the group for as long as she can, absorbed in her own pain and resolved to end things once and for all.
Make no mistake, this is a stark, grim affair. Characters die, hearts are broken, dreams are crushed. But at the same time, a girl finds a reason to move on and live - and that is all kinds of awesome.
I loved this very beautifully oppressive, cloying nightmare of a book from start to finish. I will say it once again, so listen closely. This is Not a Test is, beyond a doubt, one of my favorite books of 2012.(less)
Will Ritter seems like your average twelve-year-old - he has a loving mother and younger sister, and even tho...moreOriginally Reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Will Ritter seems like your average twelve-year-old - he has a loving mother and younger sister, and even though his father has recently passed away, things seem to be heading back to normal for Will. That is, everything seems normal, until one day he notices that his crotchety next door neighbor is a zombie.
Well, not a zombie - because that implies a slow, mindless, reanimated body driven by a singular hunger for human flesh. Will's neighbor is actually a Corpse; an intelligent, alien entity possessing a dead human body, and hell-bent on domination of the human race. And Will's neighbor isn't alone. Will discovers that Corpses have infiltrated schools, the police force, the local news, and even local politics. The good news is, Will isn't alone either - he's one of the few children who develop the Sight (the ability to see the Corpses for what they are, instead of the human masks they project to the rest of the world), and is rescued from certain death by Helene, an undercover student at his middle school. One of a covert group called the Undertakers, Helene takes Will to join this secret contingent of twelve to seventeen year olds, all of whom possess the Sight and have banded together to fight the Corpses.
Will also learns that his late father was the actual founder of the Undertakers, and his death was caused by the Corpses. Taking up the mission started by his dad, Will quickly rises through the ranks of the Undertakers and vows to make sure that the Corpses are stopped, once and for all.
The first thing that came to mind when I started reading Rise of the Corpses was John Carpenter's film, They Live (you know, OBEY CONSUME THIS IS YOUR GOD and a sweet pair of glasses). The Undertakers is built on a very similar premise, but involving a much younger crowd of protagonists. This isn't so much a zombie book per se (even though it technically does involve the reanimated dead), but more along the lines of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or They Live - there is an invasion happening, from creatures beyond the realm of the Earth, and though they wear human skin, their intentions are anything but benevolent. It's a familiar premise, but one that is unique and gripping enough, because of the added twist of the need for the invaders to wear cadaver flesh (gleefully disgusting), and because of the youth of its protagonists.
In fact, this latter point is really what is so effective about the book. As children, we place trust in adults and authority figures, but as we grow up, that unquestioned trust is tarnished. In Rise of the Corpses, this principle is taken to the extreme as these children absolutely cannot trust the adults who will think they are crazy, or worse, who will try to kill them. These children - especially Will - are forced to grow up, or die. And that is all kinds of scary.
From a characterization perspective, this distrust pervades Will's actions and choices - he's forced to accept the unbelievable, and on top of that must deal with his father's secret legacy; a reality that Will grapples with when he learns that his dad not only formed the Undertakers, but shared this part of his life with two other children whom Will never even knew existed. Will is angry, and I can understand that completely. As our hero, Will comes across as the genuine article and is a believable twelve-year-old boy whose world has just been turned upside down. That said, he's perhaps a little too special and too adept at his new life (and everyone is happy to tell Will how adept and special he is), which is frustrating. Still, he's not infallible, and there are plenty of other characters that feel more layered and genuine to bridge the gap. Helene, the girl that saves Will, is a fantastic female counterpart, as is Burgermeister (I LOVE Dave Burger!). And, of course, there's the fearless leader Tom and his sister Sharyn - both of whom are the eldest of the Undertakers at seventeen, and add a nice layer of plausibility to the groups organization and effectiveness at fighting the Corpses.
Bottom line: I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and immediately upon finishing it was eager to dive into Queen of the Dead. Totally recommended, for older middle grade readers, young adult readers, and heck, adults like myself. (less)
Queen of the Dead begins a few months after the dramatic conclusion to Rise of the Corpses - namely, after Wi...moreOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Queen of the Dead begins a few months after the dramatic conclusion to Rise of the Corpses - namely, after Will figured out by freak accident how to kill Corpses once and for all. With Kenny Booth's highly public death, there's a power vacuum in Philadelphia and a new boss steps on the scene in the form of Lilith Cavanaugh, who is every bit as charming and personable as Booth, but even more vicious. Lilith, the Queen of the Dead, has one goal - to wipe out the meddlesome Undertakers and to ensure that the invasion of her people (the Malum) proceeds smoothly. Of course, with Will and his buddies now capable of not only incapacitating Corpses, but also killing them indefinitely before they can transfer to another host body, Lilith's job isn't so easy. And as the stakes grow higher, with the involvement of the FBI, with Will's family and the lives of his closest friends in the balance, he's willing to do whatever it takes to stop the Queen and minions before it is too late.
The second in the ongoing Undertakers series, Queen of the Dead is just as fun - if not more fun - than its predecessor. Personally, I love the character of Lilith Cavanaugh and her more cruel and manipulative approach to power. She's less cheesy than Kenny Booth, and far more vicious, ordering the torture of those who have failed her, and the deaths of young women whose bodies she longs to wear after the skins she dons inevitably start to decompose. I also appreciate that Will's remaining family (his worried mother and younger sister) are drawn into the fray in this second book, as his mother is desperate to get her son home after she receives a present from her late husband.
This book also starts to broach some tougher topics than Rise of the Corpses - now that the children can actually kill the invaders, does that mean that they should? Will is older in this book, but feels far more mature than his now-thirteen years. He struggles with the orders and decisions of his leader, Tom, and has to find the balance between playing the hero and playing the martyr. Though he's still a little too good to be true in this book, I do like that he makes mistakes and is forced to pay for them in Queen of the Damned. His relationship with Helene in particular strengthens in this book, as does his friendship with Burgermeister (who proves his mettle, and is so much more than just a large bully now). And then of course, there's the paternal/older brother figure of Tom and his relationship with Will which grows more nuanced in this second novel (believe me when I say that this relationship is one of the strongest - and most heartbreaking - in the book).
There's some craziness that goes down in the book's climactic final act, and I wish we had more answers than we are given. That said, there is so much room for more and it's clear that The Undertakers are just getting started in their fight to save Philadelphia (and the world). I'm eager for much more.(less)