Friday, July 26, 2013

'Dust & Decay' (Rot & Ruin) by Jonathan Maberry

Official Summary:
Six months have passed since the terrifying battle with Charlie Pink-eye and the Motor City Hammer in the zombie-infested mountains of the Rot & Ruin. It’s also six months since Benny Imura and Nix Riley saw something in the air that changed their lives. Now, after months of rigorous training with Benny’s zombie-hunter brother Tom, Benny and Nix are ready to leave their home forever and search for a better future. Lilah the Lost Girl and Benny’s best friend Lou Chong are going with them.

Sounds easy. Sounds wonderful. Except that everything that can go wrong does. Before they can even leave there is a shocking zombie attack in town. But as soon as they step into the Rot & Ruin they are pursued by the living dead, wild animals, insane murderers and the horrors of Gameland –where teenagers are forced to fight for their lives in the zombie pits. Worst of all…could the evil Charlie Pink-eye still be alive?

In the great Rot & Ruin everything wants to kill you. Everything…and not everyone in Benny’s small band of travelers will make it out alive.

I don't remember how I discovered Jonathan Maberry but it was probably back in the old MBTA commute days where every few weeks an Amazon bookstore day was needed to restock the queue. The entire ride up into work (never back because getting a seat heading out of the Park Street station during rush hour is near impossible) would be spent perusing Amazon's reading recommendations and downloading the next months title selections. That kind of convenience is the big reason I'm still remise to give up my Kindle with 3G even though the model with wifi would work just fine at home... wherever I am, I can always shop for books.

Anyway, I digress.

On that fateful day, sometime in late 2011, the first Maberry title I would ever read, Dead of Night landed on my Kindle by way of WhisperNet, and it was awesome. So awesome in fact that it not only spurred a zombie titles influx on the reading list (World War Z, Married With Zombies & Warm Bodies to name a few), but Jonathan Maberry made his way onto my author watch lists. 

Being on my author watch list is a BIG DEAL because being on that list means that I'll probably read everything you ever publish, including your pre-teen novels like the Rot and Ruin books, of which the second title is Dust & Decay, the supposed focus of this other chatter

What I'm trying to say is that Jonathan Maberry is a great writer. Not only because all of his novels are interesting and touching even when the backdrop is filled with flesh eating monsters, but because it is exceptionally tailored to his audience.  If I were twelve this series of books would some of the best stuff out there. Unfortunately, I'm in my thirties and the writing and story lines in this series are just too simplistic.

The Bottom Line: While I love Maberry's more mature titles and don't plan on letting them fall off my radar anytime soon, the language and plot lines explored in the Rot & Ruin series are much better suited for younger readers. As such, I'm still giving this title the green light it deserves, just be aware that if you're looking for a more graphic zombie experience than I'd say check out his Joe Ledger series or Dead of Night and pass this title onto the nearest horror or dystopia loving tween in your life. I think they'd love it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

'Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky

Official Summary:
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a story about what it’s like to travel that strange course through the uncharted territory of high school. The world of first dates, family dramas, and new friends. Of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Of those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

Once a week a friend and I leave our desks just long enough to drive down to Starbucks and order incredibly high-calorie drinks smothered in whip cream and gossip. Sometimes it's work related, but most of the time we just talk about movies we've seen recently or television shows worth checking out. This last time we went out he insisted that I watch the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower. His recommendations have yet to let me down, so when he said that it was the first film he'd watched in awhile that made him feel like he'd actually watched a moving piece of cinema, I couldn't help but check it out when I'd finally meandered back to my desk.

Unsurprisingly, the movie was based on this book of the same name and with a quick Amazon 1-click it was ready and waiting at home on the Kindle. If I'm presented with an awesome movie or the awesome book that movie was based on, I'll choose the book every time. So that night, immediately after I'd eaten, cooked and cleaned up dinner, I sat down and started reading.

The first thing to mention is that Perks is an incredibly quick read. From cover to cover it only took about three hours. The second is that the backdrop for this coming of age story is high school in the early 1990's. Having been in high school during roughly the same time period as the characters in this book, and having lived through a lot of the same uniquely '90's moments (Rocky Horror Picture Show anyone?) which made reading this book similar to flipping through a photo album filled with people and places you thought you'd forgotten about.

Because of that association, the story lingered with me, not so much because of the thought provoking content. I mean, let's be honest here, I'm a little old to do much more than reminisce over the kinds of issues complicating Charlie's life.

Bottom Line: While other reviewers seem to either love Perks by Stephen Chbosky for it's accessible, character driven narrative, or hate it because they don't identify with Charlie, the time period, the catchphrase (see left) or all of the above, I think it would be a wonderful summer reading title for kids going into their freshman year. Not just because that's the age of the narrator, but because it seems like time well spent helping these kids prepare for a complicated new phase of life filled with dating, drugs and drama. To boil it down further, if you're not either A: a Gen X'er or B: transitioning into high school, you'll probably have a tough time understanding this one and might have better luck elsewhere.

Monday, July 1, 2013

'Trail of the Chupacabra' by Stephen Randel

Official Summary:
Avery Bartholomew Pendleton is back, and he’s just as crazy as ever. Avery is a paranoid loner obsessed with global conspiracy theories who spends most of his time crafting absurd and threatening letters to anyone who offends him. That means pretty much everyone.

Still convinced of the existence of the mythical Mexican chupacabra*, Avery enlists the assistance of the Southwest Texas Revolutionary Armed Confederate Border Operations Militia (STRAC-BOM) and their manic leader, General X-Ray, to help him invade Mexico. Accompanied by Ziggy, a burned-out hippy, and an uncommonly large iguana named Nancy, the group follows the advice of a New Orleans voodoo priestess and heads straight into the Mexican desert.

Unfortunately for the motley gang of explorers, Mexico can be a dangerous place if you cross the wrong people -- specifically, the Padre, a vicious drug cartel boss, and El Barquero, a murderous gunrunner who has crossed Avery’s path before.

What unfolds is a laugh-out-loud dark comedy of insane humor, unforgettable characters, and chilling thrills.

*No chupacabras were injured in the writing of this book.

Trail of the Chupacabra’ by Stephen Randel is a fabulous revisit to the world of ‘The Chupacabra’, released last year. While Kip and his father Bennett’s story take a backseat during this installment, we get to see a whole lot more Avery – a self-proclaimed technical god, possible genius and letter writer extraordinaire – his best friend, Ziggy – Avery’s complete opposite and a guy who totally reminds me of someone I know – and STRAC-BOM… and who doesn’t love that motley band of gun totting, 'Merica loving guys? 

As this strange group of monster hunters (of chupacabra and otherwise) are running back and forth over the United States and Mexican border they somehow manage to stumble into, and magically survive through, stings, crossfire, explosions and chance meetings with cartel goons at just about every corner, all while maintaining an endearing innocence (or inflated sense of self importance in Avery’s case), that is sure to keep your eyes glued to the page. 

Like its predecessor, ‘Trail of the Chupacabra’ is filled with punchy one-liners, “so-bad-they’re-great” jokes, and a richly diverse cast of mostly demented, but incredibly deep characters. While this title doesn’t have one ounce of fantasy (a genre that this particular reviewer usually thrives on) the fantastical world that Randel paints through the main character Avery gives any book about vampires or faeries a run for its money.

Bottom Line: If you love books like ‘Domestic Violets’ or the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett, I honestly think this one, (or ‘TheChupacabra’ if you haven’t read it yet) is right up your alley. In fact, this one gets the T.T.P. satisfaction guaranteed. Yes, it’s just that good. I promise.