Ebook Reviews: Return to the Lost Level and School’s Out by Brian Keene

5 03 2018

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Return to the Lost Level by Brian Keene

Apex Publishing

Grade: A

In the second book in the series, Brian Keene cranks up the pulpy goodness to 11. Return to the Lost Levels offers a quest, some “new” characters, death defying (and not-quite-defying) action and just enough interdimensial weirdness to through me into full on squee mode. The Lost Level series is the perfect blend of modern science fiction concepts, classic pulpiness and Keene’s own special mythology. Yet must importantly, it’s pure joy to read. While I love the novel as a whole, the little side peeks into some of the alternate realities was the highlight for me, as well as the cool little short story attached to the end. The Lost Level series is the most fun I have had reading a print novel since Joe Lansdale’s Drive In series, and I can’t wait to see which roads Keene takes us down next.

 

schools out

School’s Out by Brian Keene

Grade: B

In School’s Out, Keene doesn’t break much new ground in the post apocalyptic world. Yet, where this novella stands out is in the voice of it’s main character and the pure visceralness of the writing. Inspired by his sons view of the apocalypse, Keene doesn’t cute it up. This isn’t some cozy apocalypse, but a brutal landscape seen through the eyes of a child. Keene doesn’t attempt to make his main character anything more than he is, a normal kid dealing with a situation that most adults would have trouble grasping. Keene delivers the tale in a way that brutally honest to kids, yet never gratuitously so. There is no agenda or attempts to teach moral lessons, just revealing a potential world as realistically as possible. I think this would be a good tale to read with a child, and may lead to some interesting conversations.

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Book Review: San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant

11 05 2013

San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats by Mira Grant (A Newsflesh Novella)

Orbit Books

Quick Thoughts: San Diego 2014 has everything you want in a Zombie novella, wonderful characters, heroic stands, epic deaths, zombie killing badassery, dark humor and emotionally jarring moments.

Grade: B+

So, it’s Zombie Awareness Month and I was faced with a bit of a problems. How can we have a celebration of Zombies without discussing Mora Grant? Her Newsflesh Series has been the highlight of my Zombie loving life the past three years, and she was the first author ever to allow me to ask her some awkward questions in interview format. The problem was, I had already listened to all of Mira Grant’s audiobooks, even the short non-zombie Apocalyptic Scenario #683: The Box which she narrated herself. Then I remembered that I can also consume words through my eyeballs and not just my earholes. While I had listened to all the audio entries in the Newsflesh series, I had yet to read the one Newsflesh Novella not yet available in audio called San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats. Also, I had this rectangular shaped plastic thingy called a Nook which you can actually download word strings that form stories onto making it a perfect devise for ocular word consumptions. Hence, my problem solved.

San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats takes place in the early stages of The Rising, at a time where Zombies were still fictional, and the weird stories being spread around about a new disease were basically just rumors, and rumors are not enough to keep the die hard fans from attending the annual ComicCon is San Diego. Mahir Gowda, newsie for Georgia and Shawn Mason’s After the End Times blog, has tracked down the last survivor of that fateful ComicCon, the daughter of two members of a Firefly fan group. Through his interview and other means, the tragic story of the infestation of Kellis/Amberlee into the ComicCon is told. San Diego 2014 is simply another bit of evidence proving Mira Grants place as one of the premiere Zombie novelist of our time. In just about 100 pages, she managed to make me care about a group of characters and laugh and cry with them through their last moments. San Diego 2014 has everything you want in a Zombie novella, wonderful characters, heroic stands, epic deaths, zombie killing badassery, dark humor and emotionally jarring moments. Heck, Grant even manages to fit in a courageous service dog. One thing I loved about San Diego 2014 was, unlike her other Newsflesh Novella Countdown, this was a story that can stand on it own. Grant creates a loving image of Fandom, highlighting its quirks and eccentricities without making them seem like freaks. There were moments when reading this novella when I groaned at the fate of a character, or laughed at a simple line like "We are in the middle of what looks increasingly like a zombie apocalypse. Moaning people don’t need help…" Yeah, that. San Diego 2014 was the perfect Mira Grant fix needed for Zombie Awareness Month.





The Quick and the Dead: Zombie Shorts

17 05 2012

Since my print reading time is relatively limited, I tend to read a more novellas and short stories than novels. Here are a few quick reviews of some Zombie related shorts I have recently read.

The Crossing by Joe McKinney (A Dead World Novella)

Print is Dead Books

Pages: 90

The Crossing is set in McKinney’s Dead World series of zombie novels. It’s a short, fast paced story of an investigative reported named Samantha who sneaks into the zombie plagued Quarantine Zone to get a story about the refugees who attempt to cross the wall into the free territories. McKinney never shies away from the brutality of the Zombie Apocalypse whether done by zombies or humans. The contrasts between the clean, well fed Samantha, and the dirty, ragged survivors is vivid, and makes her stand out in the new lawless reality south of the wall. Luckily she meets a survivor named Jennifer, who is willing to risk it all so Samantha makes it across the wall alive. Fans of McKinney’s Apocalypse of the Dead will enjoy this well drawn story by one of the best undead authors working today.

Available on Smashwords

Zombie Battle 1: Outbreak & Zombie Battle 2: Integration by Jacqueline Druga

Self Published

The Zombie Battle series is a group of shorts that together make up a complete novel. I have only read the first two of the parts so far. The story begins as with a weird item falling from the sky into a small South American country, leading to a disease which turns those exposed into Zombie like creatures. Druga explores some interesting ideas in this series, which offers some cool twist onto the traditional zombie breakout tales. Zombie Battle is a self published series, and the dialogue and prose is often a bit clunky. She fills the story with likeable characters, and interesting science, yet all too often they are mired in unnecessary exposition. With a competent editor, this story could really work, but the writing issues are often a distraction. That being said, I had a good time with what I did read, and will probably continue the series when I am looking for something quick and maybe just a bit brutal to read.

Available of Smashwords





Novella Review: The Becoming: Brothers in Arms by Jessica Meigs

15 05 2012

The Becoming: Brothers in Arms by Jessica Meigs

Pages: 111

Format: EBook

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: The Becoming: Brothers in Arms is a short, but fully realized tale of undead mayhem and two brother’s fight to survive. It is a must read for fans of The Becoming, as well as a good introduction to Meigs world for those who have yet to experience it.

 

Jessica Meig’s The Becoming was the first audiobook I finished listening to in 2012, by a slim margin. I was listening to it on my way home from a friends house, were I was celebrating New Years Eve. It was around 3AM and I was driving down the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia, riveted to Meigs characters as they dealt with the undead. It was a great way to bring in the New Year. What I really liked about The Becoming was its characters and their realistic response to a world turned onto its head.  About half way through The Becoming, our main characters meet up with two new characters, Theo, a paramedic and his brother Gray.  These two characters become and integral part of the narrative and added a new dynamic to the overall tale. Yet, they just show up in the midst of the chaos of the zombie apocalypse and we never really get too much of a back-story on these two brothers and how they survived until that point. Luckily, Meigs remedies this with a supplemental novella called The Becoming: Brothers in Arms, which tells you the story of how these two brothers were able to survive the initial outbreak, and eventually hook up with the characters of the original novel.

The Becoming: Brothers in Arms is a fast pace, tightly drawn Zombie outbreak novel that highlights the characters craftiness and ingenuity over any special skills or training. Theo and Gray are not highly trained military operatives, or survivalists who have been planning for this day, but two regular brothers who must use the tools at their hands in order to survive the violence and mayhem of a zombie outbreak. Meigs does a good job putting these two relatively normal guys in situations where they must use their natural born intelligence to find a way out of a highly unusual situation. In particular, Theo, the paramedic’s tale, is full of dark humor, and it’s obvious the author draws on her experience as a paramedic to create a realistic and tragic series of events for Theo to find ways to deal with. Meigs gives you interesting glimpses into both brothers thought processes, as they take in the evidence of the strange going ons, each coming to terms with the reality of the situations in their own ways. One of my favorite aspects of this novel is the author’s realistic portraits of sibling’s complicated relationships. While these brothers are willing to travel through a nightmare landscape to make sure the other is safe, the resentments and miscommunications of the sibling relationship simmer underneath. While the initial part of this story is a full of fast paced zombie action, when the action slows, the complex relationship easily takes its place creating tension, and driving the story forward.  The Becoming: Brothers in Arms is a short, but fully realized tale of undead mayhem and two brother’s fight to survive. It is a must read for fans of The Becoming, as well as a good introduction to Meigs world for those who have yet to experience it.





EBook Review: Player One: What is to Become of Us by Douglas Coupland

12 02 2012

Player One: What is to Become of Us by Douglas Coupland

House of Anansi Press

Pages: 256

Format: Nook EBook

Genre: Literary Fiction, Apocalyptic Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Player One, while not typical of type of genre novels I usually read, brings together an interesting apocalyptic scenario with a mesmerizing though exercise on the complexities of our species use of inner dialogue, and how events can change perspective. This novel impacted me personally on many levels, and definitely made me think of certain issues and philosophies from a new perspective.

Sometimes I find it interesting how you may discover a book. Recently, I have discovered many of the books I have read through blogs and social media, and occasionally, through a random Google search, or website on a specific genre. Recently, I was doing some research for my weekly "Welcome to the Apocalypse" series. I am working on various lists of Post apocalyptic fiction based on causality, like nuclear war, plagues, zombies, or some other catalyst for the end. One such topic I have been researching is Peak Oil and other petroleum related triggers to the apocalypse. I have read a few novels on this topic, including James Howard Kunstler’s World Made by Hand novels, as well as a bunch of oil related thrillers, like Black Monday by R. Scott Reiss. During my research I discovered a novel that I had never read or even heard of called Player One by Canadian author Douglas Coupland. Player One tells the story of five characters who are stranded in an Airport Hotel Bar during a crisis where the price of oil skyrockets leading to riots and terrorism. The story is told in real time from the overlapping perspective of the five characters.

I have to say right off the bat that Player One was nothing like I expected. I am not very familiar with Coupland’s novels, and went into the reading of Player One with my only knowledge of the work being what I read at the Barnes and Noble product description. I later discovered that Coupland wrote this book for as his contribution to a Canadian lecture series. While the narrative of the tale centers on the events at the bar, most of the story takes place within the inner dialogue of the main characters. Unlike most of the novels I read, where the inner dialogues of the characters pertain to the events around them, Coupland displays the five perspective character’s inner dialogue in total. As the world is breaking down around them, the characters are dwelling on religion, psychology, sexual politics, aging, and presenting their self doubts out like a meal for us to consume. It’s mesmerizing fascinating, and at times frustrating, but often it is full of beauty as well. What makes it interesting is that Coupland has basically chosen four seemingly mundane characters at a moment that has the potential to be a turning point in their lives, and one incredibly unique character named Rachel with a neurological condition that gives her an almost alien perspective on the world. As someone who has a loved one on the Autism Spectrum, I found Rachel’s perspective to be fascinating, and touching in an almost ironic way. Rachel is at the hotel bar on a quest to find a man to impregnate her, because she believes this is the only way she will achieve true humanity in her father’s eyes. In many ways she is the driving force of the tale, the control group of the thought experiment taking place with the other characters. At the end of each hour, a mystery character called Player One who works as a sort of omniscient narrator, wraps up the happenings and foreshadows the events to come. Player One, while not typical of type of genre novels I usually read, brings together an interesting apocalyptic scenario with a mesmerizing though exercise on the complexities of our species use of inner dialogue, and how events can change perspective. This novel impacted me personally on many levels, and definitely made me think of certain issues and philosophies from a new perspective.

As this is typically an audiobook review blog, with my print review I like to add my thoughts on the potentiality of an audiobook version of the novel I read. I think Coupland’s novel would have difficulties translating into audio form, but if it was, since most of the novel took place inside the heads of the characters, I think it would be important for a different narrator to handle each perspective character. In the unlikely chance that this book does become an audiobook, I would be highly tempted to listen to the audio version to see how the narrators would pull it off.





EBook Review: Devil Red by Joe R. Lansdale

5 02 2012

Devil Red by Joe R. Lansdale (Hap Collins and Leonard Pine Series, Bk. 8)

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group/Random House, Inc.

Pages: 224

Format: eBook

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: Devil Red has all the classic Hap and Leonard qualities, a tight plot, laugh out loud moments, deadly enemies, and tons and tons of heart. Reading Lansdale as opposed to listening allowed me to experience his technical prowess as a writer from a new perspective, although I did miss Gigante’s mastery of dialogue and the comic timing that he excels at, especially in this series.

 

Devil Red is the first book I have ever read by Joe R. Lansdale. I first discovered Lansdale about a year and a half ago in audiobook form. I had heard the name before, in conjunction with the movie Bubba Ho Tep, and occasionally mentioned on horror writer Brian Keene’s website forum. The first novel by Lansdale I ever listened to was Savage Season, the first Hap and Leonard book. I found it brutal and brilliant and its main characters were so unlike any others I had read before. It also was the second novel I had ever heard narrated by Phil Gigante (the first being Ultimatum by Matthew Glass) and it sky rocketed him up to one of my favorite narrators. I then went on to listen to the entire Hap and Leonard series, as well as a few of his excellent standalones including A Fine Dark Line and The Bottoms. Both highly recommended. When the latest Hap and Leonard novel Devil Red came out, I waited impatiently for the audiobook version, but discovered, after bugging a few people including the author himself, that there would be no audiobook. So, for the first time, I would be experiencing one of my favorite literary duos in print form.

After handling some unseemly business with a local hood who robbed an old lady, Hap and Leonard are brought in by their friend, and sometimes employer Marvin, a Private Investigator. A client wants Marvin to look into the death of her son and his girlfriend who happened to be a member of a weird vampire cult. What looks like a random robbery gone bad, turns out to be more when they discover the mark of a Red Devil at the scene, a signature found at a large number of murders. As usually, this leads to the kind of violence and mayhem that Hap and Leonard often find themselves in whether prepared for it or not. One thing I discovered by reading is how simple Lansdale’s writing style is. He manages to use an economy of words that is amazing when you realize how much depth they display. This is the style that is easy to underestimate, and it eventually wallops you in the head with its emotional impact. While the action is crisp and the violence brutal, the heart of this story is the relationship between Hap and Leonard. Despite differing in race, intelligence and even sexual preference these two characters are more than brothers. Both characters experience life threatening breakdowns, one mental and one physical, and it’s literally the love they share that helps guide the other during these moments. As always the dialogue is hilarious, each brother pointing out the other’s foibles, from Hap’s sensitivity to Leonard’s choice of hat, in a loving brutal honesty that makes you laugh every time. Devil Red has all the classic Hap and Leonard qualities, a tight plot, laugh out loud moments, deadly enemies, and tons and tons of heart. Reading Lansdale as opposed to listening allowed me to experience his technical prowess as a writer from a new perspective, although I did miss Gigante’s mastery of dialogue and the comic timing that he excels at, especially in this series.

 

For the audiobook versions of The Hap and Leonard Series, check out Audible’s series listing.





Welcome to the Apocalypse: EBook Review: Vampire Apocalypse: A World Torn Asunder by Derek Gunn

27 01 2012

Vampire Apocalypse: A World Torn Asunder by Derek Gunn

Permuted Press

Genre: Post Apocalyptic Horror

While The Guilded Earlobe is an audiobook blog, and the majority of my book "experiences" are audiobooks, I do read print. Last year, most of my print readings were older science fiction and horror paperbacks that I purchased at used book stores. I am a used book store addict, and can spend hours roaming the science fiction section looking for out of print Post Apocalyptic novels, classic science fiction, and books with really cool covers. Yet, this Christmas my family surprised me with a Nook Color. I had wanted an E-Book Reader for a while and was excited when I received the gift. I really wasn’t sure how I would do reading EBooks. I love reading paperbacks, love the sensory feeling, the feel, the smell. So, I wanted to choose something relatively easy to read for my first book. I scanned Barnes and Noble’s free E-Books, and saw a bunch of free and inexpensive EBooks from one of my favorite small publishing houses, Permuted Press, which specializes in Post Apocalyptic and Zombie fiction. I ended up choosing a novel by Author Derek Gunn, called Vampire Apocalypse: World Torn Asunder, the first novel in the Vampire apocalypse series.

First off, I had no problem translating from paper reading to EBook. For many of you EBook pro’s, that’s probably not a big shock, but for people who are hesitant, EBooks are not the spawn of Satan, and while the sensory experience is different, it was closer to reading a book than I expected. It helped me choosing a cover that allowed me to hold the Nook like a book.

Since I am voracious consumer of audiobooks, I have decided to target books that are not available as audiobooks, and probably never will be. So, when writing a review for an EBook, one aspect I plan to discuss is how I feel the audiobooks version would be best handled. Also, since this will be my first EBook review, and it is an Apocalyptic novel, I thought it would be a fitting edition to my Welcome to the Apocalypse series.

Vampire Apocalypse: World Torn Asunder is a fast paced, post apocalyptic adventure tale. I found the set up pretty interesting. The Vampires are not really the cause of the Apocalypse, but use the breakdown of civilization, and the growing isolationism of the world to take over. The Vampires and their human cohorts keep the people suppressed by the use of a drug that makes the docile. Yet, a small group has found a way to resist the drug, and together they will mount a fight against their evil Vampire Overlords. I found Vampire Apocalypse to be a fast easy read. It reminded me of the old men’s adventure series like Deathlands or Omega Sub. This is definitely not high literature, nor does it want to be. I think Gunn has created an interesting scenario and the series has some potential. I did have a few problems with the novel overall. First off, I found that the mythology of the Vampires was uneven and not well developed. I loved that these Vampires were not sparkly emo-vampires, but deadly vicious killers. Yet, their mythology was all over the place. They could change shapes and take on forms of animals and mythological creatures, but this power sort of just appeared. It’s not that Gunn’s vampires were inconsistent, I just would have like a bit more background, but instead, it seemed powers and weaknesses of the Vampires appeared just as the author needed them. I would love the author to delve more into their history. He did do some interesting things with the scientific research into the weaknesses of Vampires, and hopefully we’ll see more of that in later editions.

Another issue I had was with the action sequences. There were a lot of them, and while some we a bit clunky, most of them were well done. Yet, there was a bit of weirdness to them that had me confused. Gunn would introduce characters whose basic job was cannon fodder. You basically knew that thee character that you were meeting for the first time, were Red Shirts, meant to be killed during the missions. Now, I was OK with this, but you would be introduced to these characters, by their full names, then later the author would only refer to them using their last names. Why this was confusing for me was that many of these characters last names were also female first names, so I was trying to figure out who this Kelly chick was, when it was actually some guy whose last name was Kelly, and so on. I think part of this issue was that I am so used to audiobook narrators giving the female characters feminine voices, that I was having trouble keeping the gender roles in order.

Yet, these little issues are pretty quibbling. I am interested in seeing what Gunn does later in the series. Maybe some of the mythological issues I had will be cleared up as the series progresses. Some of my other issues, like some clunky sentences and stilted dialogue I am sure will improve as the author grows into his craft. Overall, I had fun with this novel. I will definitely be checking out the other novels in this series.

I would really have trouble seeing this novel made into a traditional audiobook. That being said, I could see a company like Graphic Audio doing good things with this novel. A lot of my issues with it could be cleaned up with a good full cast graphic audio production. Some gifted voice actors some special sound effects and a tightened up script could make this novel a lot of fun to listen to as an audio drama,