Tagged: post-apocalyptic fiction

Anthology: At Hell’s Gates by Various Authors

At Hell's Gates by Various Authors(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

When evil overflows from the deepest, fiery pits, the battle will be At Hell’s Gates…Whether you are a zombie aficionado, or you feed on horror, there is something for everyone. We’ve summoned some of the top Zompoc authors, masters in horror, and even some new talent to strike fear into even the most jaded soul. Dare you look, let alone approach, the dreaded gates?

Each skillfully crafted vignette showcases previously created worlds in the individual author’s works. If you’ve ever yearned for more back story or ached to learn what happened to a peripheral character; your wait is over. But, as they say, “Be careful what you wish for”. Once it has been seen, you cannot go back. And once infected; there is no cure.

This collaboration is in honor of the brave men and women in our Armed Services who willingly lay down their lives for our freedom. Words could not possibly express our undying gratitude, so we have banded together, doing what we do best, to show our appreciation. All proceeds from the sale of this anthology will go to The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to serve wounded soldiers and their families. This is for you, those who have truly been…At Hell’s Gates.

[Full disclosure: I was contacted by one of the authors and received a free ebook from them in exchange for an honest review.]

I don’t normally post anything on Remembrance Day out of respect, but I thought this was the perfect book to review as all proceeds go to The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.  You can’t pick out a more worthy cause than that.

As you guys have probably picked up on by now, I’m not a big anthology fan.  Usually there’s one or two stories by authors I know and like and the rest aren’t very interesting or are pretty poorly written.  There have been a few exceptions, but I generally try to avoid reading anthologies for just those reasons.  I was a little skeptical reading this anthology because I’d never even heard of any of the authors, but the blurb intrigued me enough that I decided to give it a go.  This isn’t just zombie fiction, after all; it also includes stories with other horror elements like vampires and ghosts.

I have to say that I was just blown away by this anthology.  There were so many amazing stories in it that I find it hard to name all of my favourites.  And in all honesty, I don’t think I could name a story that I actively disliked.  There were some that I felt were ‘meh’ but none that I thought were bad and shouldn’t have been included.  All of the stories were well written and well-edited, so much so that I have added several new authors and books to my enormous to-read list.  Sharon Stevenson’s story Welcome to Hell and Seth by Jacqueline Druga in particular stood out to me.

At Hell’s Gates is a very well-edited anthology.  I think I caught maybe one typo in the whole thing, but it’s more than that.  The stories were very well put together so as to make the anthology flow.  There was a large variety of stories and the order was rotated so that you didn’t have two intelligent zombie stories one after another or a run of three quasi-military survival group stories.  Seeing as I read the whole anthology in one sitting, I particularly appreciated this attention to little details like making sure there was a wide variety of stories and that similar themes were spaced out well.

In this anthology there are intelligent zombies, traditional Voodoo zombies and modern Walking Dead-esque zombies.  There’s really something for everyone and even if you don’t like zombies, there are plenty of stories that focus on other horrifying creatures like vampires and ghosts.  And you certainly can’t deny that the anthology goes to a good cause.

So go out this Remembrance Day and get some excellent new reading material while supporting our troops.

I give this anthology 5/5 stars.

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After the End by Bonnie Dee

After the End by Bonnie Dee(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

The end of the world is only the beginning.

Zombies are on the loose and the world comes unraveled. A group of strangers on a Manhattan subway are brought together in the name of survival following the lead of Ari Brenner, a young man who represents authority because of his army uniform. Even though Ari doesn’t feel worthy of their trust, he steps up during the crisis as he’s been trained to do.

College student Lila Teske finds her non-violent beliefs tested in the crucible of a zombie attack as she takes her place fighting by Ari’s side. There are other members of the diverse group, but the focus of the story is on Lila and Ari, young people who learn about sacrifice, inner strength and even love during their ordeal.

With infrastructure down and communication with the outside world broken, the survivors head toward the nearest marina to escape New York. When they meet a lab tech who may know the key to defeating the virus, he must be protected at all costs. But the reanimated dead aren’t the only danger that impedes them on their perilous journey.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

It’s actually kind of funny that I found this book on NetGalley because 3-4 years ago I read an excerpt from the original version.  The voice of the author was so unique that even though I didn’t have money to buy it at the time, it’s been on my list for a while.  So when I saw a chance to read the whole book (a new revised edition, mind you), I leaped at the chance.

First off, Bonnie Dee’s zombies are not your typical zombies.  They’re a little smarter and are surprisingly strong, but what really stood out for me was how you kill them.  Just disabling their brain doesn’t work; you have to go for their spinal column to get to their so-called ‘primitive’ or reptilian brain that drives them.  So having a bunch of guns and some sharpshooters isn’t necessarily going to save your butt this time like in so many zombie books.  They’re also a little smarter and some of them are quite strong, so you’ve got the makings of a perfectly terrifying apocalyptic scenario.

So while the zombies and general world-building was good, my relationship with the characters was so-so at best.  Ari and Lila were both very good, solid characters with lots of development.  Ari has to fit into his unasked for leadership role as the only man with military training around and Lila has to reconcile the new everyday violence with her pacifist tendencies.  If they don’t succeed in changing, they’re all going to die.  There’s a definite romantic element to the plot as Ari and Lila become close, but it’s not always the main focus.  The main focus is survival.

That was the really good part of the characterization.  The bad part is that for her secondary characters, Bonnie Dee tends to use stereotypes.  The pampered model, the cute and helpless kid, the scientist with the cure, the disgruntled teenager, etc.  I would have liked her to flesh out her secondary characters a whole lot more, but she never really did.  There was so much potential with many of these characters that was never lived up to, so in a way the characterization was rather disappointing when you compare it to that of the two main characters.

However, the plot is incredibly fast-paced.  Bonnie Dee grabs you into her story and doesn’t let you go until you’re done reading.  There’s a constant undercurrent of tension from the very real threat of the zombies as well as the many interpersonal conflicts that crop up in a diverse group of survivors.  She has an excellent writing style that describes things in detail without ever really letting go of the fast pace.  Thankfully, there was no middle sag in this book either as Ari’s group got their footing.  It’s fast-paced pretty much all the time, which is what you really want in a post-apocalyptic novel.

So overall, I was pretty happy with how After the End turned out.  The main characters were good, the zombies were terrifying and new and the plot was insanely fast-paced.  The only real letdown was the secondary characters, which could have had so much more depth and added so much more to the story.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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The Book of Ivy by Amy Engel

The Book of Ivy by Amy Engel(Cover picture courtesy of NetGalley.)

After a brutal nuclear war, the United States was left decimated. A small group of survivors eventually banded together, but only after more conflict over which family would govern the new nation. The Westfalls lost. Fifty years later, peace and control are maintained by marrying the daughters of the losing side to the sons of the winning group in a yearly ritual.

This year, it is my turn.

My name is Ivy Westfall, and my mission is simple: to kill the president’s son—my soon-to-be husband—and restore the Westfall family to power.

But Bishop Lattimer is either a very skilled actor or he’s not the cruel, heartless boy my family warned me to expect. He might even be the one person in this world who truly understands me. But there is no escape from my fate. I am the only one who can restore the Westfall legacy.

Because Bishop must die. And I must be the one to kill him…

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

At first, I thought The Book of Ivy would be a guilty pleasure read.  I’m a sucker for the failed-assassin trope, I’ll admit.  What I didn’t really expect was that it would have as much depth as it did.

In her debut novel, Amy Engel has created some truly amazing characters.  Ivy is one of the more memorable characters I’ve read in a long, long time.  She’s brave and not afraid to stand up for herself, but at the same time she can be weak and vulnerable when it comes to her family.  Not only that, she also knows how to act: she can hide her feelings from those around her reasonably well.  But when Bishop starts to worm his way into her paranoid heart, she starts to question all that her family has told her about the current regime.  It’s not perfect, but maybe the Westfalls don’t have Ivy’s best interests at heart.

Bishop was more than your typical love interest as well.  He’s kind and patient, waiting for Ivy to come around rather than trying to force his affection on her once he falls in love with her.  He knows that she doesn’t trust him and instead of saying “I am trustworthy”, he demonstrates it.  Some of his actions are rather shocking to our sensibilities, but in the fairly brutal future they make sense.  To his credit, he did the right thing but he is also disgusted about what he did in that case.  That makes him a memorable character as well instead of just Generic Male Love Interest.

The world-building is excellent.  There’s not much I haven’t seen in post-apocalyptic/speculative fiction but The Book of Ivy manages to combine old tropes with Amy Engel’s new take on them.  She paints a realistic picture of a horrible world where the survival of the fittest is very, very true.  Even within their community, there is always danger lurking around the corner and dissent is punished severely.  I would like to know a little more about the founding of the community, but Amy Engel manages to explain all of the essential things in the course of the book.  So I’m looking forward to learning more, but I’m not desperately seeking information in order to actually understand the book.

The only place that I felt The Book of Ivy was shaky was the plot.  Not the pacing, which was excellent for a largely character-driven novel, but the plot itself.  It was fairly fast-paced and the way Ivy changes is very believable, but I was a little annoyed at the end.  Ivy did some counter-intuitive things in order to advance the plot at the end and set up the next book The Revolution of Ivy.  I get that she needed to finally meet the rebels on the other side of the fence, but it could have been done in a more believable fashion.  Still, it’s a first book and it didn’t make me mad or even anything more than slightly annoyed.

All considered, The Book of Ivy is an amazing debut that’s better than the books of more established authors.  It’s one of the better post-apocalyptic books that I’ve ever read in the YA genre and considering how many I’ve read, that’s saying something.  I can highly recommend picking it up when it releases on November 11.  I can almost guarantee that once you finish it, you’ll be like me and become extremely anxious for November 2015 when the next book releases.

I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

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Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari

Today is Wednesday which means I’m posting over at We Heart Reading, which has recently been re-vamped with a new author, a new look and new motivation.  So go on over to see me completely trash a rather popular book: Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari.