Cats and Zombies

2AM. Saturday morning.

I have only a few hours until I have to get up for work, but I’m wide awake. And sleep isn’t going to come easily.

Why aren’t I asleep?

Because I’ve just had a nightmare.

Yes, like a little kid, a bad dream has jolted me awake and now I’m lying in the dark, every noise transformed into something ominous by fear.

The dream started off well enough, with me as a cowboy. There was a shoot out between James Stewart and Audie Murphy, which left both dead. And then undead Audie got to his feet. Yes, Walking Dead style, it didn’t take a bite, but I blame George A. Romero as I’d been thinking about his movies a lot in the last week and eager to watch Dawn of the Dead again. Perhaps this was my subconscious’ tribute to the director?

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I managed to cuff Jimmy before he revived, but Audie bit another person. Having dropped the most decorated zombie in Hollywood, I saw the other zombie pursuing my cat, Midnight. Out of bullets (isn’t that always the way?), I hastily ran and shoved the zombie into a side room and grabbed Midnight.

Unfortunately the living dead opened the door and seized me from behind. It went to bite my neck.

At this point I awoke, but still gripped by the fading terror of the nightmare, I actually awoke in the process of throwing my elbow in defence.

Luckily the biter had come from the right and I was elbowing thin air. On the left and I would have clocked MWF in the face and probably sporting a shiner. And I suspect that her coworkers would have heard “my boyfriend elbowed me in the face while asleep because of a nightmare” and assumed it was a flimsy excuse, a slightly more inventive version of “I walked into a door”.

Luckily, Pumpkin, who in the dream was sensible enough to avoid the walkers, jumped into the bed and huddled in by my arm. Stroking him calmed me down and eventually I fell back asleep. And this time, without any nightmares.

Thank the gods for cats.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Book Review: The Failed Coward by Chris Philbrook 

Having really enjoyed the third part of the Adrian’s Undead Diary series I added this to my Kindle and couldn’t resist cracking on with the fourth instalment.

With new allies and fresh sources of supplies, life should be good for Adrian and his little group of survivors, zombies aside. However, the undead are acting strangely and there are a few new faces in town who he can’t trust yet.

Philbrook does a great job of building and developing his undead apocalypse more and more with every book. Having introduced a supernatural background in part three it lends events here a new dimension of creepiness and raises questions for the reader and our narrator. What has raised the dead and why?

We get glimpses of life elsewhere, a group of besieged soldiers in the UK, a flashback to two dimwitted stoners as the world went to hell. There’s also a crazed loner, who revels in the apocalypse, selfishly and callously surviving, his ranting becoming increasingly unhinged and adding a fresh tension when his house is mentioned as a potential target for Adrian and his scavenging friends.

With winter coming to an end, Adrian faces fresh challenges and with human survivors returning to the town must wrestle with whether his scavenging and looting is defensible. 

A cracking read with some unsettling touches and some dark, crude humour, this series continues to be a treat.

Verdict: Philbrook expands his universe and also finds new ways to keep the story fresh, creating an uneasy feeling and a gripping story. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Midnight by Chris Philbrook

Back to the zombies with the third instalment of Philbrook’s Adrian’s Undead Diary series. As with the others this is told largely in the diaries of Adrian, an ex soldier holed up at a private school as the dead rise.

The second book ended with Adrian discovering that he wasn’t alone and welcoming people into his home. There’s also a threat from another group of survivors. Over the course of this book this feud comes to a head and other survivors are encountered.

It’s a quality read with the story developing nicely and there being a few nice twists and turns along the way. Adrian is also a great character with fragility, humour and fear creeping into his foul mouthed diaries. The action is quite gripping and while the diary format robs some of the tension, it still works as Philbrook is smart to use gaps between entries and short, angry or upset entries to give the impression things have gone wrong and put the reader on edge.

Philbrook also has rounded Adrian out and ensures the reader is engaged and invested in what happens to him.

There are also inserted chapters that take place elsewhere, which gives us different perspectives and fills in the gaps that Adrian can’t. One of these explains the cause of the zombie apocalypse and this is done well, different from other zombies stories. It also gives Philbrook routes to follow and feels fresh. This increases the creepy factor and creates an unsettling vibe and leaves more questions unansweed.

Looking forward to going back to Adrian’s world soon.

Verdict: The series goes from strength to strength. This part expands the world the story takes place in and ups the stakes. New characters and a few nice twists keep it fresh and hooked me in throughout. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


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.

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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.
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Be excellent to each other.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.