Category Archives: Atria

Review: Red Hill by Jamie McGuire

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books (October 1, 2013)
  • ISBN: 9781476759524
  • Source: Personal copy

When an outbreak hits without warning, everyday people are forced to do the extraordinary if they are going to survive.

Scarlet is a divorced, single mom to two girls. After sending her daughters to spend the weekend with their father, she’s off to work at the local hospital. She is one of the first to see the outbreak when it hits. Initially, they believe that an outbreak of rabies is responsible for the strange behavior. Then, when the dead awaken with an insatiable hunger they realize it is so much more.  Scarlet barely escapes the hospital unscathed, desperate to be reunited with her daughters.

Nathan hears of the outbreak and rushes to pick up his daughter from school. His marriage is a failure, becoming even more obvious when he returns home to find that his wife has left him.  Determined to protect his daughter, he flees town in search for a place of safety.

Miranda is a college student traveling with her sister and their significant others. Her VW may not be much, but it saved them from the attacks of the hungry walkers.  She’s desperate to reach Red Hill, site of her father’s cabin and hopefully, salvation.

These three individuals converge at the cabin at Red Hill. Individually, they are quite different. Yet one goal is common: to stop at nothing to save and protect their loved ones.

I know, I know. Another zombie outbreak novel. Yet Red Hill has the qualities of a novel much more than “just” a zombie novel. Yes, there are zombies, but they aren’t the focus of this novel. Instead, the concentration is on the survivors and how they react to a horrifying and traumatic experience:

Scarlet is a fierce, no-nonsense woman. Despite all odds, she’s determined to be reunited with her daughters. She willingly risks the lives of those around her, including her own, on this mission.  It was easy for me to connect with this character. Having two children myself, nothing would be able to stop me from finding them.

While Nathan has his daughter beside him, he’s still searching for something in life. His marriage wasn’t a loving one, so the outbreak gives him a reason, an excuse, to seeks something more out of his life.

Miranda is a bit more complicated. She’s accustomed to taking what life throws at her, taking control, and dealing with it. Since the outbreak, her lack of control is devastating and she must adjust to her new life in a completely different manner.

I’ve owned a copy of this book for some time now. Unfortunately, it’s often the case that I buy a book, put it on my shelf, and forget about it for a while. This is exactly what happened in this case.  I discovered it again when I was planning my posts for Murder, Monsters & Mayhem. What better excuse to give it the attention it deserves? I’m thrilled to know that it exceeded my expectations. We all know I’m a huge fan of zombie fiction & movies. Not for the gore or the killing, but because they, like so many other pieces of horror fiction, are about far more than the monsters that inhabit them. In most cases, they are an exploration of our society and how we, as human beings, respond to unbelievable situations.

Red Hill is the perfect example of this. Yes, there are zombies. Yes, there are killings. Yet they are minor in the overall outlook and intent of this novel.  The character study McGuire provides is intense and terrifying, yet genuine and provoking.  Honestly, I don’t know how I would react if their fate was dealt to me; I hope I have a modicum of their determination and survival skills.  Yes, there are some overly optimistic scenes, but we all need a bit of hope & happiness in our lives (especially in the midst of a zombie apocalypse)!

Red Hill is a perfect read for fans of The Walking Dead who tend to shy away from gore. The violence is minimal, never overdone or exaggerated. The people are the key to this story.  Highly recommended.

Mini-Review: The Killing Hour by Paul Cleave

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books (April 23, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1451677812
  • Source: Publisher

They come for me as I sleep. Their pale faces stare at me, their soft voices tell me to wake, to wake.  They come dressed in the clothes they were in before they died, though there is no blood on them. I know what they want, because when it comes to people who are ghosts because of you, there really is just the one thing. They cannot touch me because they have no real form. I cannot touch them either, cannot push them aside. I feel the guilt they want me to feel–I feel very little else.

When Charlie wakes up, his head his pounding and his clothes are covered in blood. He cannot recall the events of the previous night yet, with one look at the newspaper his memories come rushing back. Two women are found brutally murdered. Charlie didn’t kill them, yet the only evidence the authorities uncover lead directly to him. In a panic, he goes to the home of his ex-wife, Jo. Given Charlie’s history with violence, Jo can’t immediately trust that he is not responsible for the deaths. Certain that they are both in danger from the man who did commit the crimes, Charlie abducts Jo and flees. Haunted by the ghosts of the two dead women, Charlie must simultaneously prove his innocence to both his ex-wife and the authorities while also trying to evade the grasp of the true killer.

Originally written as horror and then published in 2007, Cleave combines attributes of this genre with those of a chilling psychological thriller. Not necessarily a book for the weak of heart (or stomach), The Killing Hour captivates readers with an incredibly twisty storyline and flawed, unreliable characters. A novel that shouldn’t be read in the dark (for that’s when all the evil happens), I highly recommend The Killing Hour to fans of horror and dark psychological thrillers.

Frightful Friday: Domino Falls by Steven Barnes & Tananarive Due

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. This week’s featured book is: Domino Falls by Steven Barnes & Tananarive Due.

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; Original edition (February 19, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 145161702X
  • Source: Publisher egalley

In this continuation of Devil’s Wake, Kendra and the other survivors finally reach Domino Falls, a secure town in California run by new-age guru Joseph Wales. After a period of quarantine, the conditions they discover in Domino Falls are almost too good to be true: clean bathrooms with running water, hot cooked meals, and a mechanic to help repair the shoddy bus they have been driving for thousands of miles.

It isn’t long before they realize that the Domino Falls is, in fact, too good to be true. Wales is implicitly involved in the apocalypse that caused the infection that turned everyday people into monsters.  When what the group of survivors thought was the cause of this wave of infection is disproven, an unworldly source is revealed.

Domino Falls is an extraordinary follow-up to what I thought was an incredibly unique and remarkable first book in a series. In this novel, the characters experience a tremendous amount of growth and revelation. Additionally, readers will be floored when the true cause of the “infection” is revealed, adding a completely astounding science fiction spin on this zombie series.

As with the previous book, the action is intense and the pacing fast so don’t be surprised if you finish this book in one sitting.  While I thought the cliff-hanger at the end of Devil’s Wake was powerful, it holds nothing to the ending of Domino Falls. I cannot wait until more is revealed in this series. Highly recommended.


Review: Devil’s Wake by Steven Barnes & Tananarive Due

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; Original edition (July 31, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1451617003
  • Source: Personal copy

Kendra and her parents are on their way to the hospital in Portland for a flu shot when it happens: an infection consumes innocent people, turning them into flesh-eating monsters. Escaping before receiving the injection, they attempt to escape the madness that is unfolding before their very eyes. It isn’t long before the devastation hits home, Kendra left to fend for herself after her parents become victims of the mysterious infection.

After fleeing yet another incident that nearly takes her life, Kendra eventually meets up with a group of juvenile delinquents who served time volunteering at a summer camp instead of in the Washington juvenile detention system.The group begins the harrowing journey to find safety. Together, they cross thousands of miles of barren land in a decrepit school bus, fighting not only the infected but healthy individuals, pirating the weak for supplies and information.

A great deal of speculation takes place regarding the cause of the virus that turns people into “freaks,” the prevailing answer seems to be the infected are those who both received a flu shot & consumed a mushroom marketed as a weight-loss diet. All the survivors know is this: newly infected fall asleep and wake up as flesh-eating monsters with blood-red eyes. The cause is not important to Kendra in the survivors. Their goal is to get to safety…and fast.

Devil’s Wake is a fresh, unique spin on the zombie story. Both the cause of the infection and Kendra’s speculated involvement is wholly intriguing. Additionally, the zombies this husband/wife writing combo create are unique in and of themselves. Some turn into bumbling, flesh-hungry creatures but others retain a part of their original selves, some able to participate in actual intelligible conversation.

The main characters are mostly teens, Barnes & Due allow them to retain some of the aspects of teens, including the traditional insecurities that many teens face. Additionally, they are incredibly flawed and make genuine mistakes.  One of the many redeeming characteristics of this novel is the strong, female characters. Each of them are head strong and self-assured, traits not often seen in this genre. Also, the authors create characters from different walks of life, combining individuals from well-off backgrounds with those whose family life had more to be desired. Finally, the characters are genuine representations of people of color, not forced into stereotypical roles or norms.

While there wasn’t a strong ending to this novel with several aspects left hanging, this cliff-hanger instead generates a great deal of excitement about the next book in the series. All in all, Devil’s Wake is a great example of zombie fiction for those who like a bit of horror, but not a great deal of vulgarity and gore. Highly recommended.

Devil’s Wake the first in a series; stay tuned for tomorrow when I review the second book in the series, Domino Falls.

Review: White Horse by Alex Adams

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (April 17, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1451642997
  • Source: Publisher

Thirty-year-old Zoe Marshall work as a janitor for Pope Pharmaceuticals. One day, she returns home to find a jar sitting in her apartment. The source of the jar is unknown. It becomes an obsession for Zoe and a topic of frequent discussion with her psychologist. She takes the jar to a museum curator for investigation.

Meanwhile, a virus is raging her town. The symptoms are similar to a stomach virus. Soon, everyone in her apartment building who also happens to own a cat is sick and eventually dies. The virus quickly spreads, dubbed the White Horse by a televangelist after one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Ninety percent of the population is killed by the virus; Zoe is one of those individuals who appears to be immune. Others who are found to be immune form mutations, like gills, tails, snakes growing from their heads like hair.

When it becomes obvious that everyone she loves around her has died, Zoe embarks upon a mission to find her new love, Nick, her psychologist. Nick left just as the virus was starting to spread; he felt what he thought were symptoms and disappears, heading to Greece to find out if his parents are still alive.  When Zoe finds out she is pregnant, her mission becomes more dire and urgent. Along the way, she meets several unique characters, including a man only referred to as “the Swiss,” a man set on destroying the abominations created by the virus, including Zoe’s unborn child. The reader follows Zoe on her journey, the storyline alternating between past and present.  Zoe, a woman once sheltered by the bubble of family and friends surrounding her, must branch out, escape everything that is comfortable to her, in order to survive.

Zoe’s character is quite a strong one. It was thrilling to watch her evolution as an individual, starting out as a meek woman during her therapy sessions with Nick to a strong, courageous individual.  She was a truly good and pure character, very apparent as compared to those individuals who were dark and evil. As she travels on her journey, she can’t help but reflect upon herself as an individual and on humanity as a whole.

While the storyline does alternate between past and present, I didn’t feel as though this took away from the overall story or was confusing. Each heading is broken up into “Now” and “Then,” making it easy for the reader to discern the timing.

Due to its subject matter, White Horse is not a light book in any manner. I found it quite reminiscent to the disparity and desperation of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. There is quite a bit of retelling of the devastation suffered by the victims, and survivors, of White Horse. That said, there is quite a bit of hope scattered throughout, lightening the mood just a bit.

White Horse is the first in an apocalyptic trilogy. I’m impatiently waiting for the next volume. The intensity of this novel carries, unrelenting, throughout the entirety of the novel, the last few lines leaving me breathless.  Adams’ writing is unique, so powerful in its simplicity at times, yet overflowing with meaning at others. This is a tremendous debut, one I recommend highly.


Review: More of America’s Most Wanted Recipes by Ron Douglas

Last year, I reviewed America’s Most Wanted Recipes by Ron Douglas. When I heard an updated version of the cookbook was scheduled for release, I jumped on the opportunity to review it. In More of America’s Most Wanted Recipes, Ron Douglas gives readers more than 200 simple secret restaurant recipes, this time all for $1o or less!  The cookbook contains secret recipes from restaurants like the Cheesecake Factory, Benihana, Red Lobster & T.G.I Friday’s.

The recipe I chose to make was P.F. Chang’s Mongolian Beef. The main reason was because P.F. Chang’s is one of my favorite Chinese pastries; the other reason was because I had many of the ingredients already in my kitchen.

The recipe was extremely easy to follow.  In no time, my kitchen smelled like heaven. Pictured below is the beef, simmering in the delicious sauce.

And the final product:

Looks heavenly, no?

Now down to the taste test: does it taste like the “real” Mongolian beef from P.F.Chang’s?  While it’s not spot on (I prefer a bit more garlic) it was pretty darned close!  Most importantly, my family enjoyed the meal!  I took the leftovers for lunch today and it stands up to the “reheat” test as well.

I can’t wait to try out one of the other recipes in this cookbook.  Which will it be? Maybe the Starbucks Chai Tea Latte? Or maybe the Golden Corral dinner rolls? The possibilities are endless!  So, what are you waiting for!? Go out and buy your copy of the cookbook now!