Audiobook Review: Dead Meat by Patrick Williams & Chris Williams

22 05 2012

Dead Meat by Patrick Williams & Chris Williams

Read by Kevin Stillwell

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 10 Hrs 20 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: While Dead Meat is a gore filled, hardcore zombie novel, it is also a complicated character study with a devastatingly brilliant ending. The path that Dead Meat takes you on isn’t always easy going, but the destination is more than worth the trip.

Grade: B

I think so much about the Zombie Apocalypse is a matter of perspective. I remember watching 28 Weeks Later, and feeling outraged at the government and soldiers who killed people in the streets and hunted down children to prevent them from escaping the Quarantine Zone. In this so-called age of freedom what kind of agent of the people would kill their citizens, just because they want to escape an apocalyptic nightmare zone and find safely. Of course, if that safety comes at the expense of my safety and the safety of those I love, that’s a whole other story. So many Zombie novels start within an initial outbreak zone. Sure, cutting off people from safety can be heartbreaking. Many people who are yet to be infected trapped with the undead hordes. We feel for them, we sympathize, and often, we are angry with those who lock theses people out, and even scoff at their ineptitudes. Yet, what if the story instead came from the perspective of the next town over? While I’m sure there is probably some people in that town that worries about civil liberties, the majority of those people will be worried about not having their entrails ripped from their still living bodies. If someone can come up with a better idea than Quarantines zones and carpet bombing the infected town, I’m all ears. I respect the individual freedoms our government was founded on. I also respect not being eaten.

In Dead Meat, strange violent attacks have begun to plague the city of River’s Edge. These violent attracts are explained as rabies infestation brought on by rats. As the chaos increases, two strangers, Gavin and Benny start their journey to try to escape the quarantined city, avoiding the swarm like infected and the soldiers attempting to exterminate those within the zone, whether infected of not. There seems to be a recent push in accessible, literary zombie fiction, broadening the genre’s audience to include young adults and those unsure about the horror aspects of zombie apocalypse fiction. Dead Meat is not one of these novels. Dead Meat is a gore loving, splatter punk zombie fan’s wet dream. Patrick Williams and Chris Williams don’t waste much time with setting up, they expect the reader to be familiar with apocalyptic scenarios, and plops them down right in the middle of a doozy. While many people will be fascinated by the swarm like behavior of the infected, called Bees by the characters, I didn’t find it as unique as some, just due to the immense amount of zombie literature I have red. What I found refreshing about the novel was its characters. Early on, I felt that Benny and Gavin were very underdeveloped. You don’t learn much background on them, and have no clues to their motivation. Yet, as the story’s thematic elements shift, you understand why. The major theme to the novel is that in extreme survival situations, people change, and the author’s allowed you to discover the characters through their altered forms, instead of grounding you in their past. The authors created a set of relationships that created multiple levels of survival. These characters are neither trusting nor trustworthy. How do you survive against the undead, when you are unsure whether or not your human partner will put a bullet in the back of your head? How can you feel safe when your partner revels in destruction? These are the questions asked in Dead Meat. While Dead Meat is a gore filled, hardcore zombie novel, it is also a complicated character study with a devastatingly brilliant ending. The path that Dead Meat takes you on isn’t always easy going, but the destination is more than worth the trip.

It took me a while to warm up to Kevin Stillwell’s narration of Dead Meat. His voice had a sort of aged gruffness that I felt didn’t fit as well with the youthfulness of the main characters. Yet, as the novel progressed, I found myself more and more comfortable with his reading. I think that his narration sort of mirrored the character’s development. As you began to get a better understanding of Gavin and Benny, Stillwell’s characterizations became more definitive, better matching their personalities. The highlight of the production was his handling of Rickett, which I found dead on. Yet, I again had trouble with Henry, and it was hard to figure out if it was narration or writing. She didn’t feel her age to me, coming off as less mature than the two younger male characters. She seemed almost like a petulant brat and I’m not quite sure how much of this was the author’s intent, narrator’s interpretation or if I just missed something about the character. Stillwell’s handling of the intense action was well done, pacing the narrative in a steady manner which allowed me to get a good handle on the developing situations. In the end, I think that Stillwell and the story grew on me as I began to understand the characters and the directions the authors were pushing them to.





Audiobook Review: Roads Less Traveled: The Plan by C. Dulaney

14 05 2012

Roads Less Traveled: The Plan by C. Dulaney

Read by Elisabeth Rodgers

Audible Frontiers/Permuted Press

Length: 9 Hrs 27 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick Thoughts: Roads Less Traveled: The Plan is a realistic, accessible Zombie thriller that can easily bridge the gap between fans of the darker, Permuted Press Zombie style and those younger fans who were introduced to Zombie fiction through authors like Ilsa J Bick and Amanda Hocking. Dulaney reminded me that with strong characters, deft plotting and well drawn action, the classic zombie survival tales can seem as fresh as when I first opened the pages of The Rising.

Grade: B+

As much of a lover of zombie fiction as I am, I do not have a Zombie plan. Sure, I probably should have some sort of game plan in place when one of the many apocalyptic scenarios decided to fall upon my world. The problem is, I’m a normal, lower middle class guy living in the death trap of suburban sprawl. Heck, I don’t even live in the nice, more isolated suburban areas, but right smack up against the 5th largest city in the country.  Oh, to make matters even better, I live in a smallish ground floor apartment, surrounded by plenty of people who when they become ravenous flesh hungry skin jobs, will have no problems smashing through one of the many man sized windows to enter my apartment and find a Bob-sized snack. So, if by some stroke of luck, I can find a way of getting to my vehicle, parked a good couple of football fields away, down a narrow sidewalk, then I’d probably end up in the congested traffic trying to flee this area. Now, luckily, we have plenty of major highways connecting in this area, to bleed off a lot of the traffic, and I am quite familiar with the back roads of my area. So, maybe I have a shot, but a plan. Nope. What plans can a guy who lives in the suburban sprawl, with a bad knee, who has never fired a gun, nor is a highly trained ninja, pirate or masked dark knight really make, besides bugging out and hoping to find someone capable to take care of me, and kill all the pesky undead trying to eat my tasty flesh. 

I’ll be honest, I never was really sure I wanted to listen to Roads Less Traveled: The Plan. Did I really want to spend 10 hours listening to some rural resident talking about their wonderful plan, and scoffing at all us stupid city folks? Because that’s what I expected. I have read quite a few apocalyptic novels where some people fully prepare themselves for the apocalypse and disparage those who didn’t while bragging about their Survivalistic savvy. I had downloaded Roads Less Traveled a while back from Audible, yet it sat there in my library mostly ignored and forgotten. The reason I had considered listening to it was because I had good experiences with the Permuted Press female authors, like Eloise J. Knapp and Jessica Meigs, so I was hoping that trend would continue. So, Zombie Awareness Month has rolled around giving me the motivation to dust off the old digital copy and give it a whirl. Frankly put, I enjoyed the hell out of Road Less Traveled. It’s actually quite hard for me to put my finger on what I liked about it. Dulaney doesn’t really break much new ground here. She combines a lot of different classic Zombie Apocalypse themes, bringing about something that is just a whole lot of fun. Sometimes, in my search for a new and unique twist on the genre, I lose sight of what drew me to these types of stories, then I listen to something like Roads Less Traveled, and I remember. Dulaney tackles the apocalypse with an accessible writing style, a willingness to take some risks and a well developed and interesting female lead. Dulaney shows us the zombie fiction can be dark and realistic without relying solely on viscera, gore and depravity. Kasey is one of the strongest female leads I have encountered, yet she is also unsure of herself and vulnerable. Now, this isn’t a perfect novel, there are some development issues with some of the lesser characters, and a few narrative leaps that left me a bit disoriented, but these quibbles are minor when compared to the many thing done right. Roads Less Traveled: The Plan is a realistic, accessible Zombie thriller that can easily bridge the gap between fans of the darker, Permuted Press Zombie style and those younger fans who were introduced to Zombie fiction through authors like Ilsa J Bick and Amanda Hocking. Dulaney reminded me that with strong characters, deft plotting and well drawn action, the classic zombie survival tales can seem as fresh as when I first opened the pages of The Rising.

Elisabeth Rodgers gives a standout performance in her reading of Roads Less Traveled: The Plan. Rodgers is a new to me narrator, and her performance was one of the reasons I engaged with this title so quickly. Now, I am no experts on accents, so I can’t really say whether it was authentic, but her soft, measured southern tone she gave to Kasey, and the vocal cues she uses made the character really come alive for me. I did have some trouble early on delineating some of the male characters, particularly Zach and Jake, but as they became more defined in the text, I was able to grasp the subtleties of each of their personalities through Rodgers characterizations. Roads Less Traveled: The Plan was an excellent audiobook production and a must listen for hardcore fans of Zombie audiobooks.





Audiobook Review: Pavlov’s Dogs by Thom Brannan and D. L. Snell

8 05 2012

Pavlov’s Dogs by Thom Brannan and D. L. Snell

Read by Jonathan Davis

Audible Frontiers

Length: 10 Hrs 3 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse with Werewolves

Quick Thoughts: Pavlov’s Dogs has a lot of good things going for it. It’s a unique story with a fascinating scientific tint that does a good job assigning a pack mentality to genetically altered Soldier-wolves. Yet, uneven character development and plotting had me struggling to become fully engaged in the tale. Yet, if you are looking for a different take on the Zombie Apocalypse, with tons of action and werewolves, well, let loose the Dogs of War.

Grade: B-

I’m a huge fan of the versus. Throw one little word between two awesome things, and somehow it makes it even better. Peter Clines did it with his Ex series, placing the versus between Zombies and Superheroes. Marvel has done it especially well, particularly when placing that word between Wolverine and The Hulk. This is the reason I was instantly interested in Thomas Brannan and D.L. Snell’s Pavlov’s Dogs. It’s no secret that I love zombie literature. Heck, I am dedicating an entire month to in honor of Zombie Awareness Month. Yet, my fandom of Werewolves is much more tenuous and unknown. I have enjoyed stories involving werewolves. I enjoyed Al Sarrantonio’s Moonbane, where apocalyptic wolf creatures fall from the moon, and Glenn Duncan’s gritty, often disturbing The Last Werewolf was brilliant. Heck, George is my favorite character in the original Being Human, and I love the werewolf aspects of that series. Yet, beyond that, I haven’t explored the Lycanthrope mythos in fiction much beyond the occasional appearance in some urban fantasy series, like The Dresden Files. So, a novel where we have Zombies, werewolves, and that word versus thrown in between these two killer monstrous staples, well, I believe I may have been legally required to check this one out.

On his Island Compound, possibly unstable Dr. Crispin has developed genetically altered werewolves with cyber controls that may just change the way we wage war. Then the apocalypse comes in the form of the ravaging undead. While safe in their island bunker, Dr. Crispin butts heads with Donavan, the new head Neurotechnician over whether to use the "Dogs of War" to save any survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse. While they fight, two friends, Ken and Jorge must try to lead a band of Survivors to safety while fighting off the infected. Brannan and Snell do a lot of thing well in Pavlov’s Dogs. The science behind the Werewolves, as well as the social structure of the pack is fascinating, and the author’s ability to shift and change the narrative often had me surprised and impressed with the story. Their ability to set up often overused literary stereotypes, manipulating the reader into engaging their preconceived notions, then smashing them created some interesting twists and turns throughout the tale. Yet, sadly, I had trouble fully engaging in the tale. There are a few reasons for this. I feel that a few of the characters were developed well, yet, many are underdeveloped, and then suddenly are thrust onto you as a major player in the tale. This was often problematic because there is no true main character in this tale, and I never felt I fully got to grasp onto any of the key players. Sure, I liked them, and often cheered for or jeered against them, but I never truly understood their motivations, or could truly justify their actions with the type of people I believed them to be. Also, while the focus on the Werewolves, and the internal power struggles of the island was well done, the other aspects of the stories, from Ken and Jorge’s travels, and the actual Zombie Apocalypse, felt a bit glossed over. There were things hinted at and implied about these aspects of the story, that I was hoping would get further explored, yet never were. Pavlov’s Dogs has a lot of good things going for it. It’s a unique story with a fascinating scientific tint that does a good job assigning a pack mentality to genetically altered Soldier-wolves. Yet, uneven character development, and plotting had me struggling to become fully engaged in the tale. Yet, if you are looking for a different take on the Zombie Apocalypse, with tons of action and werewolves, well, let loose the Dogs of War.

Jonathan Davis is a veteran narrator who I have listened to plenty of times in the past. I have found his narration to be hit and miss and Pavlov’s Dogs is definitely a hit. I think one of the tougher things for a narrator to do is to take on a novel with a diverse ensemble cast, and Davis pulls it off here with ease. I loved his interpretations of many of the characters, particularly to more defined one like Dr. Crispin or Jorge. In fact, I found his performance of Jorge to be a highlight of the reading, balancing the characters emotional journey with his biting wit in a way that caused me to wish the authors gave this character a bit more screen time. As with any tale full of action, pacing is key, and Davis found just the right rhythm to deliver the action scenes in a crisp visual manner. If you decide to check out Pavlov’s Dogs, I highly recommend you do it in audio. While I had some issues with the book, the audio production was top rate and highly listenable.





Audiobook Review: Remains of the Dead by Iain McKinnon

3 05 2012

Remains of the Dead by Iain McKinnon

Read by Karl Miller

Audible Frontiers

Length: 7 Hrs 48 Min

Genre: Zombie Apocalypse

Quick thoughts: Remains of the Dead is a devastating Zombie novel which leaves the reader no place to hide, and no shelter in the storm. It is a true sign of the relentless nature of this book that I have run out of euphemisms to use to describe it. For hard core Zombie enthusiasts, Remains of the Dead is a must have addition to your library. 

Grade: B+

There seems to be a real push recently to reinvent the Zombie. This is totally not a bad thing. Genres should be pushed to the edges, experimented on, mixed up, mashed together and turned on their head. Yet, there is nothing wrong with the traditional zombie tale. So many tales today use Zombies as a sort of vehicle to push the Survivors to some sort of stronghold where they are forced to stay. These tales use the zombie as a catalyst, but are essentially about the Survivors. While they wait for the flesh eating monsters to break in, they live and they love, they let their strange ways and beliefs influence their changed world. These stories are about respite. A break from the brutality that has changed their world. Yet, in some novels, there is no break. You are in the midst of things, surrounded on all sides by the ravenous undead. If you stop, hesitate for just a moment, you will become dinner for the hordes. While these tales are about the chase, they also give a glimpse into the survivors. The Zombies here are not set pieces, but an ever present danger, and this sort of constant stress brings out the best and worst in humans. For these survivors, the ultimate goal is escape, whether it be to a safe haven, or from the barrel of a gun. This is the world of Iain McKinnon’s Remains of the Dead.

While Remains of the Day is the follow up to McKinnon’s Domain of the Dead, it is a novel that stands very well on its own. Remains follows a group of soldiers and civilians after they are left behind during the rescue attempt that removed the characters of the first book to safety. These survivors must find a safe place to hole up until the helicopter can return to save them. Sadly, for them, so such place exists. Remains of the Dead is one of the fastest paced zombie novels I have experienced. It is the definition of non-stop zombie action. In fact, the pacing was so relentless I was scared to even pause my MP3 player for a second in fear that I may miss a key moment in the story. Throughout the story, no character is safe, no refuge truly secure and there is seemingly no end to the action on the remotest of horizons. Of all the novelist writing Zombie fiction today, McKinnon is the closest in my opinion to the feel and traditions of classic Romero. The Zombies are a force by their sheer numbers. Any slightest pause and the survivors would be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of carnivorous cannibalistic undead. There is a saying that quantity has a quality of its own, and this is spelled out in spades in Remains of the Dead. As the characters move from place to place you can feel their stress building. McKinnon is so relentless in his onslaught that you as the reader/listener feel like you are losing it along with the characters. In fact, if I had any complaint, it’s that I felt the ending was more of a pause in the action that an actual resolution. I still had that on edge feeling as the novel wrapped up, unsure of what was in store for the few surviving characters. Remains of the Dead is a devastating Zombie novel which leaves the reader no place to hide, and no shelter in the storm. It is a true sign of the relentless nature of this book that I have run out of euphemisms to use to describe it. For hard core Zombie enthusiasts, Remains of the Dead is a must have addition to your library. 

I was quite critical of Karl Miller’s narration in the first novel of this series. I felt it was someone lifeless with bland characterizations. Well, Miller impressed me in his reading of Remains of the Dead. I truly think this book, whose characters are a bit better defined and easier to visualize than the first novel, was a better fit for Miller’s strengths as a narrator. His characterizations weren’t world changing, but appropriate and easily delineated. Miller managed the breakneck pace of this novel perfectly, allowing for the action to flow naturally. Nothing seemed forced or rushed, and the action was read in a manner that allowed the listeners to easily follow what was going on. The highlight of his reading for me was his ability to display the emotional turmoil of the characters as the book progressed. You could just feel them breaking down as things just piled on top of them. Remains of the Dead is another exciting audiobook from Iain McKinnon, and one that can be enjoyed whether you’ve listened to Domain of the Dead or not.





Audiobook Review: Acheron by Bryon Morrigan

3 02 2012

Acheron by Bryon Morrigan

Read by Joe Barrett

Audible Frontiers

Length: 8 Hrs 4 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: Acheron should appeal to fans of Brian Keene and others who cleverly twist the Zombie subgenre making it more than just cannibalism corpses preying on small groups of survivors. While it has some flaws, it makes up for it with an engaging first person protagonist.

Grade: B-

We all have done that mental exercise were we decide things that we would do differently if we could go back to our high school days with the knowledge we have now. Well, I think we all have, unless I am more of a freak of nature than my sister insisted I was back in those same days. One thing I would change is I would choose to study more cool thinks in my high school and college curriculum than I did. I spent so much time in classes that I "should" take, and not enough time learning things that actually interests me. I wish I would have taken more history classes, and classes on mythology and the like, because, when it comes to the mythology of ancient civilizations, I really don’t know all that much. When I read books that are full of mythological creatures, I am fascinated by the variety of belief we as a species have had. Growing up in a pretty strict evangelical family, religion was pretty much set in stone. There really wasn’t much comparative religion going on, besides ridiculing other belief systems for their crazy superstitions. Even in my public high school we briefly touched on Egyptian mythology and Greek mythology, and it basically ended there. While I highly doubt that my increased knowledge in mythology would have given me any real world advantage, at least I would have some cool stories to tell at parties.

I downloaded Bryon Morrigan’s Acheron a few months back, but for some reason, no fault of its own, it kept on getting pushed back in my "to be listened to" pile. Yet, last weekend seemed a good time for some zombie killing action. Acheron piqued my interest because it didn’t seem like the typical zombie tale, and for someone who consumes as much zombie fiction as I do, I like to find something a bit different from time to time. I mean, honestly, how many brains can one lifeless corpse devourer before it’s tempted to try some entrails? Acheron is a first person tale of Army Captain Nate Leathers in Iraq, who after being captured by the enemy and held in a dungeon like cell for a while, escapes to find himself in a strangely changed world enshrouded in a green fog. As Leathers travels the dessert, he encounters monsters and the living dead. Acheron is non-stop action, full of monsters both human and mythological. It’s an interesting twist on the zombie genre, but when really makes it stand out is its protagonist. Captain Leathers is a fascinating character and not you’re typical military scifi or Zombie survivalist hero. I like how Morrigan used the mythological aspects of the story, but to be honest, during the major mythological sequence, specifically dealing with the underworld inherent in the title Acheron, I become a little lost. It was an evil that just didn’t resonant with me the same way his evil human characters did. Leather’s dealing with the rogue, fundamentalist mercenaries was the heart of this story, and the other aspects the flavoring. Morrigan’s Acheron is an intimate Apocalyptic tale taking place around Basra, yet giving only speculation on what may be going on in the rest of the world. Acheron should appeal to fans of Brian Keene and others who cleverly twist the Zombie subgenre making it more than just cannibalism corpses preying on small groups of survivors. While it has some flaws, it makes up for it with an engaging first person protagonist.

Joe Barrett has always been a mixed bag for me. Some of his narrations have been excellent, while others are sort of “meh.” Here Barrett finds the perfect voice for Captain Leathers, and his narration goes a long way to what makes this character so engaging. Barrett’s pacing was a little off at times, I felt that his action scenes came off a bit rushed, and I found myself having to rewind at times because I felt I missed something. Yet, overall, due mostly to the soft southern accent he used for the main character as well as the voices for the peripheral characters, I enjoyed his performance. Acheron may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but for me, it was a fun quick listen that was perfect for a busy weekend.