It has taken me far too long to read the first Zombie Fallout book by Mark Tufo. Tufo is one of the most prolific zombie writers out there, with nine books in this series plus spinoffs including a series of werewolf stories that take place many years after the zompoc. Naturally, I’ve heard of Tufo for years. This particular novel has nearly 1800 reviews on Amazon, which is a staggering number considering it was self-published.
This book has some similar characteristics to other notable books in this genre. It is in a journal format, though the author strays from sticking with the main character’s perspective for certain portions of the book. While this isn’t a major issue, it does point out the flaw in this type of storytelling-things the main character doesn’t know must be shared by other characters or in third person and it feels like a bit of a disruption when another voice jumps into for a chapter or two.
The prologue makes it clear the zombie apocalypse is about to get into full swing when a vaccination for a new strain of flu ends up bringing the dead back to life. From there we switch over to narrator Mike Talbot, ex-Marine and family man, while he is getting ready to take a shower in his house. This is interrupted when zombies show up on his front lawn and his family starts to freak out. Mike is sort of a prepper/gun nut who has been fascinated by the idea of zombies for a long time, but it’s clear he isn’t prepared for the sudden all-out assault taking place on his neighborhood and threatening his family’s existence.
Things move pretty fast from the get go, with rescue trips to save family members and friends while Mike and his neighbors work to barricade the walled-in neighborhood from impending doom. The story is, in many ways, pretty routine zompoc stuff, though the author throws a few curve balls into the mix. This includes the idea that these zombies perhaps aren’t undead, but infected and still with a spark of life, and more importantly, perhaps a spark of intelligence. There is also a hint of the supernatural, including a bit of prognostication and mental telepathy thrown in to give things a bit of mystery.
Overall, I can see why this series has been so popular. Tufo uses snarky humor and heavily descriptive verse to describe the gore, the smells, and the overall madness engulfing his character’s life. Despite some of the more odd things about Mike, he is, for the most part, just a family man trying his best to protect his loved ones in a time of ultimate danger-something very relatable.
That isn’t to say that I didn’t have some issues with the story or how it’s told. Many of my complaints have been pointed in other reviews. Though the story is fun and I’m intrigued as to how some of the more unique elements the author introduced here will be expanded upon in future volumes, I felt that many characters outside of Mike are somewhat one-dimensional. This is in part due to the fact that a diary format is somewhat limited in stepping away from the single perspective it showcases.
Women in particular are given short shrift in this book. Mike’s wife is somewhat of a stereotypical shrew who naturally is the only person on the planet he is afraid of, yet at the same time she appears to be helpless and lacking in common sense. Despite having lived with a prepper for many years, she has no idea how to even load a weapon. Neither does Mike’s daughter, for that matter, who, like her mama, has a mean temper and a stubborn streak a mile long. Another woman who agrees to go a supply run outside the safety of the walls of Mike’s neighborhood does nothing more than cower in the truck while everyone else takes care of business. All I could remember about the wife of Mike’s best friend was that she was a lousy shot-there is little else shared about her.
Mike is a funny character and his internal monologues and flashbacks are sometimes very amusing as he tries to make light of a desperate situation. At other times his perspective is best described as a bit…off. Comparing the horror of possibly being forced to shoot a loved one who has been attacked by a zombie to the more meager fear of speaking in public for the first seemed somewhat dismissive. The obsession Mike has with his Jeep Wrangler and not using this durable off-road vehicle during the zombie apocalypse because it might get scratched plus having his family be fearful of his wrath if they use it even under desperate circumstances seemed a bit lacking in focus. Mike would do anything for his family, and that comes across on almost every page, but there are occasional lapses in perspective like those above that seem a bit disjointed given the situation.
Despite the criticism I have, the book is fun and certainly does a good job of paving the way for future installments. Without leaving things on a cliffhanger note, there is enough mystery hinted at to keep a reader guessing and wanting to know what is next-in particular related to the supernatural elements of this tale.
Zombie Fallout can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Zombie-Fallout-Mark-Tufo-ebook/dp/B003A022YO/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1473094523&sr=8-1
Holiday of the Dead is a rather sizable volume of zombie short stories that mostly stick to the theme of being on holiday, though a few seemed to stretch that concept a bit. For us Yanks, a holiday means a day of festivities, while with the Brits it is what we call a vacation. There is a pretty healthy mix of both types of tales to be found here. It isn’t just a mix, but a mixed bag, with a few stories forgotten as soon as I finished them. Fortunately, quite a few others were memorable and demonstrated the author’s ability to have some fun with the theme and with zombie fiction in general. When you have a book filled with nearly forty short stories, things are going pretty well when you come away feeling that at least thirty were worth the price of admission.
Often I try to provide a mini-review of each story in an anthology, but not with a tome this size. There are far too many to recount in detail. Suffice it to say, you will get an assortment of traditional and inspired here. There are some very recognizable names in the table of contents, well know writers of zombie and horror fiction, including Iain Mckinnon, Eric Dimbleby, Tonia Brown, David Dunwoody, Eric Brown, William Meikle, Joe McKinney, and Wayne Simmons. A couple of special guests, John Russo and Tony Burgess, add tales of their own at the end of the book.
Perhaps Holiday of the Dead could have been pared down a bit, but overall it was an entertaining read with only a few minor speed bumps. The most inventive tales should more than make up for any issues you may have with the handful that don’t resonate. Stories like Change Is As Good As Rest, Naked Fear, Daddy Dearest, Home Is The Sailor, Home From The Sea, Burj, The Day The Music Died, Where Moth And Rust Destroy, and Crossover kept things popping, though quite a few others were just as fun to dive into.
Solidly entertaining zombie shorts with a few misfires, but more than enough undead goodness between its pages.
Holiday of the Dead can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Holiday-Dead-John-Russo-ebook/dp/B004XJ7HZK/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=#navbar
It has been several years since I read the two prior entries in this trilogy of zombie books, so Dying To Live: Last Rites gave me some vague recollections of the four main characters reintroduced here when I started reading this one, but fortunately, this book in many ways is a standalone novel, separate from the other two books with the story it tells.
Two characters, Will and Rachel, are living, while Truman and Lucy are zombies who have worked to retain and regain elements of who they were in life-they can speak and interact with humans. Most importantly, they can refrain from giving in to their base urges to kill and devour the living. Truman more so than Lucy, who still loves to kill and revels in its purity, believing that most humans are selfish, despicable creatures, although she more or less tolerates and even respects Will and Rachel, especially due to the relationship they have with Truman.
The four have been banished from the community they lived in and have been traveling by boat on rivers in the wilderness the world has become. Rachel grows deathly ill and they find another community called New Sparta near the water that can help her, but only under certain conditions. The zombies are to be sold off and Will and Rachel will have to pay for the care she receives and the housing and food they will need. They’ve stumbled into a much more complicated, larger, and more “civilized” society than the one they are used to, with many of the perks of our modern world having returned including electricity, credit, regular jobs, etc. Of course, their objective initially is to get their two undead friends back to safety, but a myriad of distractions and enticements create some challenges for the two of them, while things are far worse for Truman and Lucy.
Once again, the author has created some interesting dilemmas like those that ran through his first two books in this trilogy. Dilemmas based on what it means to be human and also retaining what we call humanity, regardless of who, or what, you actually are-living or undead. It’s clear that the two sentient zombie main characters see humans as selfish and self-destructive beings, even those they care for. Many are far worse than Rachel and Will, but it seems as if this internal focus is ingrained in the living, almost by necessity, to keep the fragile spark of life alight. The undead, including the other zombies the two meet while enslaved in New Sparta, are not subject to this selfishness, or so they believe. But with sentience comes certain needs and desires, even if biological urges have been almost all eliminated. Love, connections to others, and an urge to understand their existence still remains, plus the desire to devour the living still remains…and in most there is no remorse for them either, especially since all memories of what the undead were before they passed on are gone.
Dying To Live: Last Rites may be the third book in Kim Paffenroth’s trilogy, but in many ways it stands on its own as its own examination of life, compassion, and self-sacrifice. The author has expanded the amount of the sentient zombies from beyond the first two books substantially and that may be a turnoff for some readers who are looking for zombies to mostly remain dim cannibal monsters. If this were a pure action/horror type trilogy the author could take things in some interesting, Planet of the Apes-type directions with the undead past this story, but these books have always been much more about the examination of the differences between being human and being humane. Those who have enjoyed the first two novels will likely enjoy this one as well.
Dying To Live: Last Rites can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Dying-Live-Rites-Kim-Paffenroth-ebook/dp/B004T334A2/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1466867283&sr=8-3
Children of God by Craig DiLouie and Jonathan Moon is an unexpected surprise from these two horror writers. I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever read something quite like this, even though I’ve read quite a bit of poetry. This is a book that shares the tales of tragedy lived through by ten survivors, most of who can only do so through the poems they craft years after the events that destroyed the lives of everyone they knew and with whom they shared a slavish faith.
Going in, we know that the Family of God cult, led by David Prince, came to a horrific end via a mass suicide and bloody massacre on August 17, 2008, when well over three hundred members holed up in their mountain compound died with barely thirty surviving. Years later, as a form of therapy, a psychiatrist suggests the survivors write poetry as a way to express themselves. This book shares what theses ten survivors who chose to offer up their words had to say.
How the two authors craft an overarching vision of what led up to that day of tragedy, through it, and beyond is haunting, vivid, and gut-wrenching. This diverse group of poets includes children, a former prostitute, seminary student, an elderly woman abandoned by her biological family before joining the cult, a mentally impaired man, an organist, gangbanger, war veteran suffering from PTSD, and a young man who lost his immigrant parents in an accident years before joining the Children of God. Their poetry speaks of sacrifice, devotion, desires for a better world, regret, and a heavenly reward beyond this realm promised but never realized.
A story takes shape through their words and despite being a fairly short book, it paints a vivid picture of what takes place, especially on THE day where the cult comes to its brutal and horrible end. It’s easy to say that such slavish devotion to a charismatic leader is misplaced and to convince yourself that you could never fall for such lunacy, but all one has to do is to take a look at the world at large to see how desperate so many of us are, and how willing so many are to believe in false prophets and leaders who promise extreme and distorted visions of a better world. Which makes this book of poetry all the more poignant.
Children of God can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Children-God-Dreams-Nightmares-Family-ebook/dp/B01ENXYWU8?ie=UTF8&qid=&ref_=tmm_kin_swatch_0&sr=
The Three Egos starts out by introducing the reader to ‘Talent’, a man who has avoided his past entanglements with the Devil for centuries, but slips up at the wrong time and is thrust into hell to meet the Fallen Angel he made a deal with centuries earlier. While he is punished and tortured beyond death many times on his way to meet God’s former favorite, nothing is permanent in hell and so Satan has a proposition for him. If he and one of the other ‘Egos’, Chith, find the third Ego, the two of them can negotiate new deals with the Devil.
Dunwoody assembles a diverse cast of characters, including a werewolf named Lace, Sue, a woman who has been cursed to be the last of the Escariot family line (and the Devil’s unwanted amorous attention), an array of angels, both fallen and those still loyal to an absentee God, plus Hell’s Chief Inspector, Hallows, who gets to play chaperone to this mixed up band of anti-heroes in their journey to find Sephus, the third Ego. It is a journey that will take them from hell to purgatory, to the outer reaches of creation, and on to heaven itself.
This story is packed with the surreal and fantastic, the strange and the compelling, with characters that range from purely evil to blessed, though it is hard to tell which is which at any given moment. David Dunwoody has provided the reader something unexpected here, with a touch of the epic (flavorful hints of Dante’s Divine Comedy abound), though the characters are believable and approachable, with human frailties and foibles. He’s rolling the dice that readers will make the leap of faith with him on a journey some will see as profane, especially with God being more or less AWOL as a Supreme Being that is perhaps not so supreme after all. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, The Three Egos is a wild ride well worth taking.
For the most part, the pacing is fast-so fast that the reader may need to stop and re-read a few passages here and there to keep pace and not miss a key detail. It does slow a bit more than I would have preferred during the second act but that only serves to be a respite before moving on to the tale’s shocking and somewhat abrupt conclusion. My guess is your mileage may vary on how things wrap up with this saga, but that is perhaps another reason to appreciate what the author has attempted. Some questions the story generates are answered, while others that encompass far greater matters remain to be pondered after the final words are read.
The Three Egos can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/3-Egos-David-Dunwoody-ebook/dp/B010J0VSTW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1457301977&sr=8-1&keywords=the+three+egos
Mad Swine: Regeneration completes the trilogy with the aftermath of the journey of the surviving members of the Randall Oaks subdivision near Chicaog who chose to head to Finnegan Farms in the dead of winter. Lead by the narrator, Matt Danzig, those that make it to the farm work hard to establish a new life for themselves with the hope of going back to their suburban haven they left behind to retrieve those who stayed behind. But with one of the worst winters on record and the ‘crazies’ still out there, it isn’t a journey they will be able to make for some time to come.
My reviews of the two previous books categorized them as such: the first book was predominantly action-man vs. zombie and man vs. man. The second book focused more on character development, with Matt becoming less of a Rambo and more of an everyman doing his best to keep it together so those who are counting on him can do so as well. This final act blends both action and character development together better than the other two books managed to do, with a quick paced, action-filled completion to the story that also continues to provide the reader with more reasons to grow attached to Matt, his older brother, and the group of people he is responsible for both at the farm and back at Randall Oaks.
The infected/zombies in this book take more of a back seat than in the prior books, with the focus being more on the living menace that has been creeping around the periphery of the barricaded and sheltered places Matt and his group have called home. They are beginning to discover that they are far better organized and dangerous that anyone had assumed when those make a brazen assault on the farm. While I would say that once again, the author has not brought a lot to the table that makes this story different or unique compared to the rest of the zombie subgenre, he has continued to refine his writing skills and given the reader a sharper, more well defined and compelling set of characters with each book.
Of course, there are a few pieces of criticism to share as it relates to Regeneration. One in particular has to do with timing of Matt’s return to Randall Oaks. It is tremendously coincidental that he arrives mere hours (though it seems like minutes) before a surprise attack rocks the gated community. It seemed a bit rushed and a convenience to move the story forward at a quicker pace. Another frustration I had is with the lack of development of the main bad guy, who had potential to be much further fleshed out, especially based on the limited details shared about him. He seemed to be a rather twisted individual. The book could have afforded him a few more pages to shape him into more of a worthy opponent to Matt and his team and to move him away from a more generalized baddy.
Overall, Mad Swine: Regeneration is the most satisfying of the three books in the trilogy. It does a solid job of continuing the character development that made Matt more human and relatable in the second book, while at the same time sharing traits with the first book and its love of action. The author (or perhaps the publisher or his editor…) seems to like taking a few shortcuts when it comes to certain story elements. The battle between the neighborhoods never showed up except in synopsis in the second book and the main villain seems somewhat under developed here in the final book. It isn’t a major criticism, but worth pointing out. I believe that adding those components could only serve to enhance the story.
This was a satisfying zombie trilogy, in particular to watch and see how the author continued to grow and refine his ability to pull the reader in and give them a reason to grow attached to certain characters. The action and story is solid, and the pace is fast.
Mad Swine: Regeneration can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Regeneration-Mad-Swine-Book-3-ebook/dp/B011SJQ31Q/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8
Saint Pain wraps up the Zombie Ascension trilogy by Vincenzo Bilof. The saga is complete, though some of the story threads remain loose, or a bit frayed, by the end of the tale. Digesting it still, I’m not sure if that left me frustrated or content with how the author chose to close things out. Doors are potentially left open for more, though whether they should be shut for good or not is debatable.
The book starts a full year past where Queen of The Dead left off. Vega and Vincent are set up in a neighborhood with an old cop who doesn’t trust the ex-drug dealer. There are quite a few people with them, including Father Joe and an ex-pro football player named Bill. There are rumors of Vincent’s guns still hidden somewhere in the city (though he is not sharing any info) and stories of others in Detroit trading women and children for food and other supplies. While the living have been active, the undead seem to have become lethargic. Still, the harsh existence everyone faces has them questioning whether or not it is worth continuing to fight to survive. In the meantime, Jim Traverse has returned to Detroit, apparently to finish the annihilation of the human race that he started a year before.
When the undead rise back up due to some sort of unknown force driving them to kill once again, everything is stirred up and those that are alive are forced to choose whether to fight or give up. Vega wants another shot at Traverse while Vincent seems to be unsure of whether or not he wants to let go or to continue battling with Vega at his side. Only Bill, the football player, seems willing to fight to the bitter end and save whoever he can, regardless of the consequences. The reason why he is compelled to do so was one of the more poignant elements of this book, once revealed.
With all its supernatural elements and almost surreal quality to this story, where the author brings things home is when the humanity of his characters is revealed and/or demolished. The madness of some, the despair of others, and the resignation of those who know they are about to die but are still willing to fight…plus those who have already died and yet still fight on for some sort of redemption. These components to the story drew me in and kept me intrigued. The supernatural components of this story gives it a unique kink that will entertain those who crave something beyond the traditional zombie tale. There are layers of manipulation and control…by both the living and the dead…over the undead and those who have power over them. It is a twisty pretzel the author has created here and I am not ashamed to admit I was a bit confused in a few spots as to who was manipulating who.
With its heavy dose of introspection, this book did have a few parts that dragged a bit. Vega and Jim Traverse have always been interesting characters to me, with Vincent less so. His melancholia didn’t keep me intrigued every step of the way. I did enjoy the introduction of Bill, who seems like a character who you could root for despite his flaws. He seems the only person capable of holding on to some semblance of hope even when that seems pointless.
Saint Pain is a fitting ending to Vincenzo Bilof’s unique zombie trilogy. Though some of the characters are frustrating and despicable at turns, they were vividly drawn and draw you into their story, despite how dark, dank, and depressing it all becomes.