Book Review: Alone No More by Chris Philbrook

My new year resolution may have been to broaden my reading, but here we are back with the zombies. The second part in the Adrian’s Undead Diary series this picks up where the first left off. Our narrator, Adrian, is an ex-soldier who after the dead start walking and biting has holes up at the remote, elite boarding school where he worked.

Alone he tries to gather supplies, fortify his home and build a new life, all while dodging the undead who hunger for flesh. His only comforts being his cat, Otis, and the journal he writes.
The book is told in these foul-mouthed entries as he details his exploits and vents on his fears, theories and regrets. The journal format works as the missing days usually mean something has happened and the insight into Adrian’s mind set is well done. While a laddish, vulgar narrator at times Adrian is likeable enough and relatable, showing flashes of dark, self deprecating humour.

Philbrook changes it up with short chapters from the perspective of other character’s caught up in the apocalypse. Often people who have crossed over with Adrian’s story. In the first book these often ended badly but here there are a few that hint that life endures elsewhere.

As the story implies Adrian meets living people once again and these sections are quite moving as behind the bluster you can tell it means a lot to the frazzled hero to have company.

It builds to a strong ending and number 3 is on my wish list now. I’ll just have to fit some different books in between.

Verdict: Improves on the original and Philbrook impresses with his ability to capture his characters. The changing world works well and the arrival of more characters is a nice touch. A solid, entertaining zombie book. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My 10 Favourite Books of 2016

As ever split into fiction and nonfiction. Fiction first.

5. Deception Point by Dan Brown

Brown isn’t the best writer and some of the characterisation and dialogue is wooden but you can’t deny he crafts an easy pageturner and I ploughed through this.

4. Lady Killer by Ed McBain

When the detectives get a note taunting them about a murder which will be committed in twelve hours it kicks off a ticking clock thriller as they try to work out who the killer is, as well as their target. Proves writing under pressure works.


3. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

A warm easy read about life, death, fate and the connections we form in our lives. A nice read and wonderfully unpretentious. Review.

2. Ex-Purgatory and Ex-Isle by Peter Clines

Clines’ superheroes vs zombies series gets better and better with two clever installments. The first sees a bizarre parallel universe and the second sees the heroes discover a new group of survivors while tensions mount back at home. Quality stuff and the full reviews are here and here.


1.  Killer’s Wedge by Ed McBain

I am loving McBain’s Precinct 87 series and this is probably the best yet. It starts with a woman entering the detectives’ office and announcing she has explosives in her bag. The rest of the book is a tense face-off as the cops try to work out what to do and Steve Carella, her target makes his way for the precinct. Full review here.

Honourable mentions, all the other Precinct 87 books I read and Adrian’s Undead Diary by Chris Philbrook. 

And now nonfiction.
5. Spectacles by Sue Perkins

Perkins’ memoir is warm, funny and incredibly moving in places. I liked her going in but I liked her even more afterwards. A real gem. Review.


4. A Life Inside by Erwin James

An honest, clever look into the life of a prisoner James has a knack for observation and telling quick, short stories which are still insightful. Full review.

3. Are You Dave Gorman?/Too Much Information by Dave Gorman (and Danny Wallace)

Massive fan of Gorman and his funny, fussy and friendly writing. Whether looking for his namesakes or examining the weird customs and conventions of modern life, he is an affable, funny narrator and I enjoyed both books.


2. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Ronson delves into the world of online jobs and shaming in a clever, funny and well researched book. He writes with compassion and he goes off in different directions. Review.

1. Playing the Enemy by John Carlin

A book that moved me immensely, delving into the political and personal stories behind Nelson Mandela’s ambitions for the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The great man comes across wonderfully and the optimism and healing powers of sport had me quite misty eyed. My full review here.


Honourable mentions The Football Neutral by Jim Smallman and D-Day Through German Eyes by Holger Eckhertz.
Any recommendations for the coming year? Let me know in the comments. BETEO.


Underground

Inspired by a Daily Post prompt.

And I should warn you right here, this is a bit of a grim blog. So consider yourself warned.

I’m not a very brave guy. I have a lot of fears. Off the top of my head- clowns, spiders, zombies, heights and that I’m actually allergic to nuts but have been brainwashed into forgetting this and am one Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup away from death.

But high on the list? 

Being buried alive.

A few years ago I went and saw Ryan Reynolds in Buried and left the cinema shaking, and I can’t think of a film that has left me so shaken. if you haven’t seen it, it’s a cracking thriller from what I remember.

Shout out to the “groundbreaking” pun

I can’t remember when I first heard about people being buried alive, I think it came from being told people used to get bricked into walls back in medieval times or something. But it chilled me then.

I’m claustrophobic and as a kid had problems with the dark, so it makes sense that this would mess with me, but unlike a lot of fears this one gets worse the older you get. 

And knowledge is not power here.

As a kid I thought it would suck. As an adult I realised that was a massive understatement.

Not just the enclosed space but the just knowing it was all over. That would be the worst part. If you have a terminal illness you can say goodbye to your loved ones, but just knowing you were trapped?

Forget Kill Bill in the real world you ain’t getting out. And that’s what terrifies me. You hear those “they thought they were dead” stories and they usually have a happy ending, I mean the person was alive after all, and probably headed for a big pay out from the doctor who dropped the ball.

But I can’t be alone in thinking what about the folks who woke up after the burial? How many coffins have scratch marks on the inside?

This has to be the most morbid entry I’ve ever written. Blame bingeing on The Walking Dead and being tired, I guess. Although I suppose it is kinda reassuring that if there ever are zombies a lot of them will be trapped six feet under.

I am painfully aware that should I ever become a masked crime fighter I have just told my enemies how to get rid of me in the worst way.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Dark Recollections by Chris Philbrook 

I got this book cheap for my Kindle and decided to crack on with it this week. The first part in a series this is a zombie apocalypse novel told through the diaries of a survivor.

Our narrator is Adrian a former soldier who witnesses the dead rise. The story picks him up holed up inside a private school campus and over the entries he explains how he got there and what he’s doing.

For zombie fans this is familiar territory and for me the diary format always robs a bit of tension. We know our hero is still alive as they’re still writing and so the jeopardy is lessened.

That’s not to say that the book isn’t gripping as it’s written in a fast, no frills style and Philbrook reveals more of Adrian’s character as the story unfolds. Adrian is an often profane and laddish narrator, but there are signs of fragility and the writing is done so that while flawed he is oddly likeable.

The action is well done, stripped back and gritty. It’s a nice quick read and for a zombie fan like me ticks a lot of boxes. It will be interesting to see where he takes the story in future instalments. 

Verdict: Quick and easy to read with a believable and flawed narrator, Philbrook kicks off the series well and leaves the reader wanting more. The diary style weakens the peril but it is still an involving read. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do.  BETEO. 


Book Review: Ex-Isle by Peter Clines 

Clines’ hugely entertaining superheroes vs zombies series continues here. The superheroes of Los Angeles continue to protect their survivors and Zzap is checking in on survivors when he finds a collection of ships forming into a man made island in the Pacific.

St. George, Zzap and Corpse Girl head off to investigate and extend the hand of friendship, but discover a highly paranoid, insular group which is very different from the world they are trying to build.

Meanwhile, in the city Cerberus and several of the super soldiers oversee the new garden which will feed the survivors. But there is growing unease between the different factions and Cerberus must deal with her own fears.

This is a series that gets better as it goes on, and this is a cracking addition, which expands the world and introduces new players. It also benefits from dividing focus between two fronts with both being involving stories. Clines’ characterisation and dialogue is solid, with likeable heroes and hateable villains. One of the villain’s flashback is the darkest part of the series so far, and shows an ability to change tone which suits Clines’ style of switching between the past and present , and different characters’ perspectives.

What makes it the strongest installment is that there is plenty of good ideas and there are some nice twists along the way.

Verdict: A very entertaining yarn which grips throughout and shows that Clines continues to develop. The story unfolds at a good pace and there are enough twists to keep you guessing. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Ex-Purgatory by Peter Clines

Peter Clines’ superheroes vs zombies series goes from strength to strength, with this, the fourth installment seeing him go in an interesting and clever new direction.

image

George Bailey is a janitor at a university who leads a dull life. At night he is plagued by dreams of a different world, a world filled with the undead, where he fights as a flying hero. When a mysterious girl approaches him warning that something is wrong and things are not what they seem he attempts to brush it off, but soon he begins seeing visions of the dead, ruined world intruding on his life.

And there are people who seem oddly familiar to him appearing in real life.

Is George cracking up or is more going on? If this isn’t the real world how does he remember what’s true? How does he get back to his real life? And how was he expelled in the first place?

I really dug this book. As the premise is a big change in tone and his creation of the alternate reality is inspired, with clever little nods and hints of the real world bleeding through. These are drip fed throughout and there’s also a clever angle of them having blocks in place. They blank on the name “zombie” in the dream world, and George’s subconscious keeps trying to give him hints towards the truth.

Of course, we know he’s really a superhero, but Clines does a great job I’m capturing the unease as doubt of the character. It’s a bar more complicated look inside the head of George than in the earlier books and shows that Clines’ series is developing.

The revelation of what’s really happening is handled deftly and there’s some cracking action sequences. All in all this is a clever, fun and gripping read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Verdict: Full of invention and fun the series keeps getting better and this is hugely entertaining geeky gem. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


So, here’s the story from A-Z

Writing prompt: Make a list of alphabetical advice.

Ask when you don’t know something.
image

Be excellent to each other.

image

Call out unacceptable things. Staying silent only helps them continue. If you know something is wrong, do something about it.

Don’t be a d**k.

Everything looks better after a cup of tea.

Find whatever makes you happy and embrace it, even if it’s not cool. (Unless what you like harms others, in which case stop doing it.

Get rid of anyone who treats you badly. Life is hard enough without having people dragging you down.

Help whenever you can. A minor act of kindness from you might mean the world to someone else.

If you’re in a hole, stop digging.

Jokes should always go up. Mock the powerful and successful, not the downtrodden.

Keep your opinions to yourself sometimes. You don’t need to voice them all, and sometimes it’s better to remain silent.

image

Let it go. Very few things are worth carrying a grudge or resentment over, it’s a lot better to just move on.

Making mistakes is fine, not learning from them isn’t.

Never give up.

Observe other people. You could learn something, or pick up something others have missed.

People deserve second chances, don’t condemn because of who they used to be.

Quit putting yourself down. If you don’t believe in yourself how can you expect others to?

Respect that people are different.

Socks don’t have to match. I saw a post about throwing out a sock because it’s no longer a pair. Wasteful.

image

Treat people how you want to be treated.

Under no circumstances should you compare yourself to celebs or models. They have make up, assistants and Photoshop to help them. You don’t, and you’re doing fine by yourself. Love that haircut, by the way.

Vote when you can. It shows you care and it can make a difference.

Watch The Princess Bride, seriously, it’s a great movie and you’ll feel better for it.

image

Xpect to face challenges, like coming up with advice that starts with “x”.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”- Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Always try to see where someone else is coming from, don’t just dismiss them because you disagree.

Zombies could happen, have a plan and remember to go for the head.

image

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Ex-Communication by Peter Clines

This is the third part of Clines’ superheroes vs zombies series (I’ve already reviewed parts one and two) and I am really loving the series. This third installment sees the besieged heroes under threat from the undead once more and also introduces fresh threats for them to deal with.

image

Clines has established the world of his stories and he develops them further here, adding subplots about the nature of death and the characters’ differing views on the zombies. When a hero returns from the dead, but not as a zombie, it ruffles feathers as some view it as a sign that the souls linger and their loved ones can come back. This tension doesn’t help as fresh threats emerge and more players enter the frame.

Can St. George, Captain Freedom, Stealth, Cerberus and Zzap remain a united front and work out what is going on? Can they trust their former ally? And will they be forced to accept that magic is real and there are worse things than zombies?

I dug this book even though I think it doesn’t match the second part. It’s still a solid story with some decent dialogue and a couple of twists. It also helps that Clines investigates fresh themes and merges different genre trappings to make a zombie world that feels new and different.

He builds it slowly, drawing together all the different strands before an incredibly exciting finale which had me utterly hooked. I devoured it in large chunks and got totally lost in the book, which is always a good thing.

The writing is a little formulaic in places and some characters still feel two dimensional but these flaws are made up for by Clines’ strengths in other areas and a few of the characters are really coming together. St George in particular impresses but a few of the others are distinct and engaging too.

I know there’s a fourth book and I look forward to getting into it soon.

Verdict: Clines continues to create an interesting world and develops his characters. He’s not the flashiest writer but it works and this is engrossing and fun. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines

I quite enjoyed Peter Clines’ first installment in his superheroes vs zombies series, and the sequels have been sitting on my Amazon wishlist ever since. I finally got around to reading part 2 and it was an utter belter.

image

A few months after the events of the first book, the LA based heroes continue to protect their fellow survivors. Tensions are high as they try and integrate the former gang members they’ve taken in after a turf war and anti-super feeling.
When an unmanned drone is spotted they realise that other survivors are out there? But who are they? And can they be trusted?
It turns out to be the US Army, and it’s supersoldier programme. Some are sceptical, while others hope for a return to normality.
But as they visit the base more doubts are raised. Have they really worked out how to control the dead? What are their intentions? And who is really calling the shots at the base?
I really dug this book and it feels like Clines has upped his game since part one, with this book expanding on the world he created. It’s an interesting world he’s made, with the survivors having developed their own slang and their reactions to the supers and the zombies feel real and grounded, despite the unreal events.
His characterisation is solid as well, and his narrative device which sees focus shift from the present to the past creates dramatic irony and allows the truth to slowly be revealed. St George, the protagonist, is a solid, old school hero and immensely likable and the other characters, new and old, are well rounded.
It’s a gripping, entertaining read with Clines tying all the threads together wonderfully, and it unfolds at a good pace.
Also the “celebrity zombies” theme from the first continues, and there’s a nice nod to Nathan Fillion who’s endorsement of the first book is what brought it to my attention.
Verdict: A cracking read filled with action and humour, Clines has developed as a writer, with this feeling more confident and accomplished. I won’t be waiting so long before I get into number 3. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Favourite Films #33: Night of the Living Dead

This is the grandaddy of the modern zombie genre, and the first in director George A Romero’s “Dead” series (formerly a trilogy, but later installments have been added). The movie lays a lot of the groundwork for the familiar themes and motifs of the zombie genre.

night of the living dead

It’s a low budget gem, and while the effects are basic and some of the acting stilted it manages to remain an engaging and interesting movie. Like most zombie movies it deals with a small group of survivors having to hole up and fight off the undead, and the usual trope of the living being just as dangerous as the living.

The movie kicks off with Barbra (Judith O’Dea) visiting the grave of her father, accompanied by her brother, who proceeds to mock her for being scared of the cemetery as a child (“They’re coming for you, Barbra”), a slow, shuffling man appears and attacks Barbra. Her brother fights him, but is injured and Barbra flees, pursued by the mysterious stranger until she hides at a farmhouse.

O’Dea’s performance as Barbra is one of the film’s weakest as at times she’s a tad hammy and her inactivity is frustrating. I remember seeing this as a teen and the wet blanket Barbra drove me up the wall, but rewatching it recently I think it kinda makes sense, her shutting down being caused by her being traumatized. Her reaction to her brother’s mockery reveals she may already be a fragile character, and the horror she witnesses has clearly broken her.

Barbra (O'Dea) broken by the horror she witnesses

Barbra (O’Dea) broken by the horror she witnesses

With Barbra doing little the film’s real protagonist is Ben (Duane Jones) the clever, resourceful dude who arrives at the farmhouse and protects Barbra and attempts to secure the property. It was a bold move for a movie made in 1968 to put a black character in a lead role, and Ben avoids all stereotypes by being just a regular dude who happens to be black.

Ben is the guy you root for throughout the movie, he’s the most proactive and decent of the bunch. He’s also the smartest, as seen in his arguments with the angry Harry (Karl Hardman), who they discover has been hiding in the cellar with his family and two other survivors. Harry is angry, selfish and cowardly, further enhancing Ben’s standing as the film’s hero.

Duane Jones’ performance is a little stage-y in places and his delivery could be better, but it’s still a strong performance for a ’60s horror movie. He manages to convey Ben’s confusion but that this is a man who is proactive and quickly figures out the best ways to try and stay safe.

Duane Jones as Ben

Duane Jones as Ben

Race is an issue which lurks in the back of the movie, and while never openly addressed it could explain Harry’s reluctance and anger towards listening to Ben’s ideas, and it also raises questions about the movie’s gut punch of an ending.

As I’ve said, the budget is low, and the effects are pretty basic, but the movie continues to work, partly down to the fact that shuffling zombies are inherently unsettling. Romero’s best trick is to have the zombies be of all different types, showing that this event has struck all people, and at any time, we see zombies who have clearly been in bed or ready for bed and even a naked zombie.

night of the living dead zombies

Romero didn’t invent zombies, but his shuffling hordes are still the touchstone for the zombie genre, and the influence can still be seen in things like Shaun of the Dead and The Walking Dead. So too are some of the plot developments and genre conventions, as with later movies the characters huddle around radios and television which give warnings and advice, and show the growing terror and loss of control elsewhere.

Other conventions include the nature of the virus being spread, the way they can be killed (headshots only, people!) and the story line of people either (a) not realizing how the virus works or (b) hiding their bites.

headshot

There’s also the sense that the zombies have the upper hand, despite being slow moving and dull witted, although we do see them using basic things as tools here. They have the advantage because they don’t get tired and because the human survivors always fall foul of their own weaknesses (fear, selfishness, personal differences) and just bad luck. There’s also the tension building device of having every possible route of escape destroyed or blocked.

So while it’s a little creaky in places, and Romero would improve on his zombie themes with Dawn of the Dead, Night… remains a solidly made, creepy and entertaining zombie movie, and you can’t deny it’s role in shaping the zombie genre. If you’re into zombie movies, definitely check it out as this is where the groundwork was laid.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.