Category Archives: St. Martin’s Griffin

Mx3 Review: Allison Hewitt Is Trapped: A Zombie Novel by Madeleine Roux

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin; First Edition edition (January 18, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0312658907
  • Source: Library

Allison Hewitt and her coworkers at Brooks and Peabody Bookstore are trapped together when the zombie outbreak hits.  Allison is able to keep in touch with the outside world through her blog and the military’s wireless network.  Eventually, supplies begin to run low and the overall morale of the group diminishes. Realizing that they cannot remain there forever, they leave the bookstore in hopes of finding help and, in Allison’s case, her mother. Throughout the perilous journey, Allison keeps her followers updated through blog posts. In their journey to safety, Allison and her ever-changing group face horrible adversaries, both human and zombie alike.

I was introduced to Roux’s work when I picked up a copy of her newest book, Asylum, from my favorite independent bookstore. I wasn’t aware of her foray into zombie fiction, but once I did I decided to give them a try myself. While Allison Hewitt Is Trapped isn’t your typical zombie fiction, I did find myself intrigued by it. It doesn’t have the typical violence and gore of other fiction of its type, instead it focuses more on Allison (and her blog followers) and how they fare in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.  I appreciated the blog format of the chapters, and the title of each blog post is a book title (Heart of Darkness, Hatchet, etc.)  Regular “commenters” to her blog posts give the reader a glimpse of rest of the country, and the world, as deal with the repercussions of the attack.

While the plot isn’t the strongest, the development and growth of the characters make up for it. Allison starts out as your typical young woman, working at a bookstore. In time, she evolves into a no-nonsense, hatchet-wielding, zombie killer.  Having such a strong female protagonist in a zombie novel is rare and for that, I thank Roux.  I was a bit worried when a love triangle/story evolved, certain that if the novel was going to go on that tangent I would end up throwing it against the wall. Instead,  Roux blends it naturally, not making it a major aspect of the plot.

To summarize, if you are looking for a gory, intense zombie novel, this is probably not going to satisfy you. However, if you are looking for a character driven examination of the human condition in the midst of turmoil, or if you are dipping your toes in the zombie fiction “water,” this is the book for you. Recommended.

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Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (February 26, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1250012570
  • Source: Library copy

The year is 1986 in Omaha, Nebraska.  Park is a sixteen-year-old part Asian boy living in a mostly white community. He’s not an outcast but due to his interest in alternative music and comics forces him to stand apart from the others. One morning, a new kid climbs on the school bus. Eleanor has bright red hair and a unique taste in clothing. It’s almost as if she is trying to draw attention to herself. Unaware of the politics of school bus seating, Eleanor instantly becomes the target of bullies riding the bus. Attempting to put an end to the confrontation, Park orders her to sit down next to him. For the longest time, they ignore one another. Park tunes out the world, headphones blaring on his head, flipping through pages of his favorite comics. One day he notices Eleanor reading along and their relationship begins to change.

Soon he begins to bring in comics for Eleanor to borrow and their joint interest sparks conversation. As Park begins to learn more about Eleanor, their friendship begins to evolve into something more. Eleanor is one of five children living with their mother and abusive step-father. She’s forced to wash her hair with flea shampoo and must hurry to take a bath right after work for fear of being accosted by her step-father. She was kicked out once before, forced to live with friends of her mother, and she fears the same will happen. Now that she has someone who understands her, appreciates her uniqueness, she doesn’t want to put an end to the life she has now, even if it means dealing with her step father’s verbal abuse.

Eleanor and Park quickly bond. Both ostracized for various reasons (Eleanor for her appearance and Park for his ethnicity) the two are drawn together. The unavoidable challenge is whether or not their relationship can stand up against all the elements driving them apart.

There are so many things that I loved about this book. Set in the late 80s, I was instantly taken back to my own youth with flashbacks to Esprit tote bags and the alternative music that was just starting to become popular. Eleanor and Park were the most adorable couple. They were genuine teens with real teen issues. I instantly felt a connection with Eleanor. Growing up, I didn’t always have what other kids my age had, I didn’t have the trendy clothes and had to be creative with what I did have. Fortunately, my home life was far more stable than hers but I still found aspects of her life to which I could relate.

I think it’s tremendously important for young adult novels to have characters like Eleanor and Park so teens growing up with issues have someone with which to connect. I don’t read a lot of young adult, mainly because I feel that some of the popular titles create unrealistic worlds for the teen readers with overinflated characters they are unable to connect with. Perhaps they have a better life or are economically privileged and can have whatever they want. But what makes this title brilliant is the fact that Eleanor and Park do not have this fairy-tale life. They are genuine. While their fate wasn’t necessarily a happy one, it was real, not artificially constructed to leave readers with a happy ending.

Additionally, while it was set nearly thirty years ago, it is my belief that young adults can still connect to the characters. Setting it in this time frame allows the author to avoid some of more modern issues teens are dealing with now, instead focusing on the wonderful relationship between Eleanor and Park.

I was devastated when I finished reading this book. I didn’t want to cut the ties to Eleanor and Park and the life they had together. Eleanor and Park reminded me what it was like to be a teen again, a time when I thought not having the right clothes or the right friends meant the end of the world. It allowed me to see just how lucky in life I am, this book is a true gift. It has been quite some time since a book has left me feeling this way, a testament to Rowell’s writing.  I recommend this book highly to all readers, even if you do not typically read young adult. Eleanor and Park will have a resounding effect on your soul. I know they did with mine.




Review: Assassin’s Code by Jonathan Maberry

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (April 10, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0312552203
  • Source: Publisher

U.S. Department of Military Sciences Captain Joe Ledger and the Echo Team have been sent to Iran to rescue a group of American students held hostage. As the team ushers the students out of the country, Ledger learns of a number of nuclear bombs supposedly planted in oil fields across the Mideast. Ledger and his team are forced to race the clock, desperate to find these bombs before nuclear holocaust is unleashed. As always seems to be the issue with any case involving the Echo Team, the mission isn’t as simple as first perceived. Joe and his team learn of a group of genetically altered killers, a brotherhood that is centuries old, known to have been responsible for the brutal rape and killing of young women, all for the sake of securing the future of  their lineage.

This news throws Ledger’s world view for a spin. As with previous books in this series, the reader is given a unique look inside the mind of Joe Ledger. He battles against three personalities buried within his mind (the modern man, the cop, and the warrior), desperate to maintain his sanity, and his soul, while fighting against some of the most brutal creatures the world doesn’t even know exist.

Aiding him in this case is a mysterious assassin, known to Ledger only as Violin. Normally she and Ledger would be sworn enemies, but their shared interest in putting an end to this hidden, evil war forces them to work together. It’s obvious that Violin has a personal interest in these creatures, just how personal is unknown until the very end.

Those wary of yet another vampire novel shouldn’t worry, for Maberry creates a league of vampires unlike no other, their existence is scientific, not supernatural.

One of the many things Maberry thrives at is rich characters. I was excited (okay, giddy) to see some of the past villains return, bigger and badder (if that is possible) than before. Additionally, the cast of the Echo Team return, this time with a few more members. I’d be remiss not to mention Ghost, Ledger’s dog and sidekick, who plays a particularly important role in this novel. Additionally, Maberry excels at providing a novel rich with action and intensity. This pacing continues throughout the entirety of the novel, unrelenting.

As this is one of a series of books in the Ledger series, while it can be read as a stand-alone I do encourage you to read the others in this series (Patient Zero, Dragon Factory and King of Plagues) so you are able to get a true sense of the evolution of Ledger’s character.

I should note that this is the first of the Ledger series that I have read in print as I listened to the audio book versions of the other three. That said, while I did enjoy reading Assassin’s Code I did miss Ray Porter’s narration of the story. I definitely plan on listening to audio book when it becomes available. Porter is Joe Ledger, no doubt in my mind.

Bottom line: Assassin’s Code continues my belief that Maberry is the king of horror/thriller novels. From zombies to genetic monsters and vampires, Maberry just goes to prove that monsters we (okay, I) grew up reading about aren’t always as they seem. He’s talented enough to put a completely unique spin on this horrible creatures, portraying them in a light never imagined. Highly recommended.

Review: Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry (Audiobook)

  • Audible Audio Edition
  • Listening Length:14 hours and 45 minutes
  • Program Type:Audiobook
  • Version:Unabridged
  • Publisher:Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Source: Publisher

Joe Ledger is a Baltimore detective, recently recruited to lead a new secret task force created to battle forces Homeland Security cannot. The first mission of this task force, referred to as Department of Military Sciences (DMS for short)  is to stop a group of terrorists planning to release a bio-agent that turns the average human into a zombie.

DMS is lead by the mysterious Mr. Church, a man who has connections with every government agency, and a unique hold over the President of the United States. Mr. Church can get whatever he wants, whenever he wants it. It is up to Ledger and his team to literally save the entire population of the United States, and beyond. Nothing like a little pressure.

As with Maberry’s other books, characters are rich within Patient Zero.  Joe Ledger has his share of monsters, he’s still recovering from the suicide of his ex-wife. His best friend, Rudy Sanchez, just happens to be his therapist as well; the banter they share is endearing as well as humorous. The novel is alive (pun intended) with completely likeable characters, as well as characters you can’t help but hate.

The level of detail about the government agencies and government protocol proves Maberry did a tremendous amount of research on this novel. This detail adds to the believability of the storyline, the fact that this could happen in our country will send a chill down the reader’s spine.

Patient Zero is the start of a series, one that I have read in print and thoroughly enjoyed. That experience was intensified after listening to the audio version of the book. Ray Porter is a superb narrator. He successfully captures Ledger’s brute personality as well as his humorous side. Just as I say Dick Hill is Joe Reacher (Lee Child’s thriller series), Ray Porter is Joe Ledger! The audio production was simply stunning; I plan on continuing the Ledger series in this format. For a sample of the audio production, visit Blackstone Audio’s Web site.

Patient Zero is a book that would be appreciated by fans of several genres, including action, horror, thriller, etc. As I’ve mentioned on several occasions, Maberry is the king of zombie fiction; he portrays zombies in a completely different light, putting a new spin on a classic monster. Highly recommended!

 

Mx3 Review: Dead of Night by Jonathan Maberry

  • Paperback:368 pages
  • Publisher:St. Martin’s Griffin; Original edition (October 25, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 031255219X
  • Source: Publisher

Serial killer Homer Gibbon is sentenced to death. Except, it’s not quite the death he expected.  Rather than truly being executed, the prison doctor, hell-bent on revenge and desperate for someone to pay for heir actions, injects him with a serum that keeps his conscious alive while his physical body decomposes. The doctor’s intent was for Gibbon’s body to be buried, essentially for Gibbon to be buried alive, feeling his own body eaten away by the normal process of decay.  Instead, however, his body is shipped to his aunt in Stebbins, a small town in Pennsylvania.  His body reanimates just as the town’s mortician opens the body bag.  His “rebirth” causes havoc and devastation to the small Pennsylvania town.

Desmonda Fox is a police officer in Stebbins. She has her share of issues: her father was killed in battle when she was young, her mother died shortly thereafter of cancer. She trusts no one, how could she after everyone important to her has abandoned her. She’s reeling reeling after a break-up with Billy Trout, her ex-boyfriend who also happens to be a news reporter. He didn’t abandon her; he actually wanted commitment, to marry her.  Still, Des passes each day by sleeping with strangers and drinking.

Des and her partner, JT, are called to the funeral home for a reported break-in. What they discover instead terrifies them; the body of the “celebrity” serial killer is missing, as is the body of the town’s mortician.  The cleaning woman’s body is found, horribly mutilated. That’s just the beginning…the small town is soon flooded by the walking dead.  It’s up to Des, JT, and surprisingly Trout, to save the town from complete and utter destruction.  The devastation isn’t solely at the hands of the zombies, but powers higher than Des can ever imagine.

Jonathan Maberry continues to impress me with each and every zombie novel he publishes. Dead of Night truly exceeded my expectations. I admit, I didn’t think it would be much different than Maberry’s Rot & Ruin or Joe Ledger series.  Fans of these series will be happy to learn that Maberry puts a completely new spin on how zombies are “created.”

The characters are another  feature of this book worth mentioning. Des, while full of her own issues, is a genuinely likeable character.  The reader will root for her success, cheer her accomplishments. The same can be said for JT and Trout; two men who truly care for Des and will stop at nothing to protect her and the citizens of their small town.

Another unique spin is that, in Dead of Night, the reader will actually feel sympathy for the zombies.  They are intelligent, their conscious is still alive, unable to control their actions. 

“The consciousness becomes separated, much as it does with certain hallucinogenic drugs, or during the spiritual exercise of astral projection. There is a disconect between higher mind and physical body. The consciousness has no control at all over the body, and yet the subcounscious mind can be manipulated by suggestion.”

They don’t want to “live,” to continue to be first-hand witness of the crimes their virus-infected bodies are performing. The beg for the torture to end, but unfortunately no one can understand their garbled language.

One of the lesser-developed characters is a radio broadcaster whose broadcasts break up the novel’s chapters.  The initial broadcast contains warnings of the impending storm hitting the area, moving to shunning of those individuals calling the station to report zombies, to ultimate radio silence. This added feature really drove home the devastation that was hitting this small Pennsylvania town.

I read Dead of Night during the read-a-thon this past weekend and boy, was it a perfect fit! The pacing is fast, the action heavy, the perfect book to keep my attention.  I do forgive Maberry for the dig he made on Stephen King…I’m sure it was done all out of fun (right, Jonathan!?)If you haven’t guessed yet, I highly recommend this novel.  Jonathan Maberry is the king of zombie fiction, further proven by yet another stunning book! Highly recommended for fans of Maberry’s other books, those new to his writing, as well as fans of thrillers (who don’t mind the walking dead).

 

Frightful Friday: Autumn by David Moody

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. Feel free to grab the button & join in!

This week’s featured book is Autumn by David Moody:

  • Paperback:320 pages
  • Publisher:St. Martin’s Griffin (October 26, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 031256998X
  • Source: Personal copy

One seemingly normal autumn afternoon, a vicious virus spreads, killing thousands of people. More than 99% of the population is dead within 24 hours, their bodies littering the streets. A few survivors find one another: Emma, a medical student, Michael, a manager at a computer company, and Carl, a maintenance worker.  They seek refuge in a shoddy community center with several other survivors.

After a few days without any signs of rescue, Emma, Michael & Carl decide to leave their temporary hideout in attempts of finding food and a better place to make camp. However, change is in the air; some of the dead lay lying on the streets begin to rise. At first, the walking dead seem harmless, just walking around aimlessly, not noticing the survivors. Soon, however, they are drawn to the survivors by the noise they make. Initially harmless, they have now become quite deadly. There are thousands upon thousands of them, drawn to the living…

 
Autumn isn’t your typical zombie novel, not by far. While the walking dead are certainly a key feature of the story, the reactions of the survivors is by far a more prevalent one. Moody gives the reader a study in the human condition; how individuals react and attempt to survive when dealt with a horrible tragedy. The pacing may be too slow for those looking for an action packed gore-fest, but this is due to the time Moody takes to build and develop his characters.  At the end, you can’t help but hope for the best for the survivors. The pacing does speed up near the end, the reader desperate to know what happens next. This, by far, is one of my favorite zombie series. Highly recommended!

Autumn, as a novel, has quite the interesting history/back story. It was originally released as a self-published, free ebook download.  Half a million downloads later, the now five book series was picked up for print publication. Additionally, the movie is available in several countries; I plan to check it out as soon as I can.

As mentioned above, Autumn is the first of a five part series:

  • AUTUMN (available now)
  • AUTUMN: THE CITY (available now)
  • AUTUMN: PURIFICATION (available now)
  • AUTUMN: DISINTEGRATION (available November 2011)
  • AUTUMN: AFTERMATH

For more information on this series, and Moody’s other books, check out his Web site.

 

Review: Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel

 

  • Reading level: Young Adult
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin; 1 edition (August 3, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 0312649916
  • Source: Publisher
  • Lenah Beaudonte was transformed into a vampire when she was a young teen in 15th Century England.  Through the centuries she built up her power and reputation and became one of the most respected female vampires “alive.” She became queen to a powerful and deadly coven. The vampire who transformed her, Rhode Lewin, ultimately became her closest friend and confidant.

    However, the power she holds isn’t enough; she craves the ability to feel again.  Rhode sacrifices his life in order for her to live again.  In order to do so, Lenah must hibernate for 100 years, leaving her beloved coven behind.

    It’s 2010 when she awakes at the young age of 16.  Rowan has created an identity for her at Wickham, a boarding school in New England.  Lenah to assimilate herself into the human world in order to remain safely hidden from her coven. Her coven is completely ignorant to what has happened and once they find Lenah her mortal life will be in danger. Vicken, a member of her coven, is particularly interested in her reawakening.  Her former lover, he craves to have her by his side again.

    Lenah has a difficult time assimilating into the human world.  She’s not familiar with 21st century technology.  She hasn’t been able to go outside during the day time in centuries.  However, when she befriends Tony, a loner himself, things begin to look a little more promising.  Lenah’s guard goes down when she falls for Justin Enos, a popular jock who is falling head over heels in love with her.

    Infinite Days is beautifully written.  I fell in love with the flash-backs to Lenah’s past; I really enjoyed the gothic feel to them.  I was drawn to read it based on the premise: a vampire who becomes human again.  Hello? Remind anyone of Angel? Ok, not exactly the same since Angel wasn’t “alive”, he just regained his soul.  Despite her past, Lenah is a character I really appreciated.  She’s in a constant battle between her evil past and her reborn soul.

    That said Infinite Days fell a little short with me.  Looking at other reviews, it appears as I’m the only one of this opinion. I think it had far more potential.  I would have loved to read more about Lenah’s past. The flashbacks were nice but I wanted more.  The first part of the book was great, but I lost interest near the end of the book. I think this was due to the relationship between Justin & Lenah.  He’s a cocky jock, she’s a goth loner.  It’s obvious that he’s attracted to her, but on the surface it appears to be all physical.  I found it difficult to believe the strong emotions he felt for her.  He brought her home to meet his parents because he felt they had a future together.  He didn’t leave her when she revealed her past to him.  All a bit too implausible for me.

    But without a doubt, it has a very interesting and unique storyline. I give the Maizel kudos for creating something “new” in vampire fiction. It is part of a new YA series; I’m not certain where the next book will take us. Despite the faults I found, I still recommend this book to fans of paranormal fiction, specifically those looking for something fresh and unique. 

    Check back later today and enter to win one of two copies of Infinite Days.

    Buy this now from:
    Indiebound.org

    Review: SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue: Earth-Friendly, Kid-Pleasing Dinners for Busy Families

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin; 1 edition (April 13, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 0312578113
  • Source: Publisher
  • Every parent has faced this dilemma:How do I feed my children a quick, healthy meal on a budget?  I know we face this problem at least 2-3 times a week!  When I was offered SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue: Earth-Friendly, Kid-Pleasing Dinners for Busy Families for review, it was a godsend!  A lifesaver! In the few months we’ve had it, it’s been well used.  It’s already full of post-it-notes marking my favorite recipes as well as those I’d like to try in the future.

    Here are some of the perks of this cookbook:

    • Seasonal (Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall) sections focus what’s in season!  I loved this feature, particularly because I knew what produce I would be able to find at the farmer’s market or the local grocery.
    • Over 300 recipes that take 30 minutes or less to prepare!
    • Nutritional information for each recipe
    • Ideas about what to pack for your child’s lunch, after-school snacks, and how to deal with picky eaters (I have two of those!)

    And these are just the perks that you’ll find when reading the back cover.  I had the luxury of having my mom ( a consumer science teacher!) in town when I was reviewing this.  She was able to give me a unique perspective about what should/shouldn’t be in a cookbook.  It’s not only the recipes you should be looking at, but the supplemental informaton as well. Here are some of the things we discovered while flipping through the book:

    • Seven steps to keeping the six o’clock scramble on schedule. For example, schedule your meals for the week based on which foods are most perishable (meat, poultry, etc) and which nights will be the most hectic. Also, starting off with a clean kitchen (including an empty dishwasher!) will help tremendously.  Clean up as you go so the final clean-up will quick and effortless.
    • Eight essential pots & pans for scrambling families
    • Ten best dishes for school potlucks or other gatherings
    • Tips on how to connect with your local CSA (community supported agriculture)
    • Quick & healthy breakfast ideas

    I could literally go on and on. SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue is without a doubt a cookbook that should be part of your kitchen library collection!

    I’d be remiss not to mention the recipe we tried as part of this .  We decided to make the “Light and garlicky penne with plum tomatoes.”  My boys are pretty picky about the type of noodle they’ll eat, so I substituted angel hair for the penne.  Oh, and I didn’t have plum tomatoes so we used cherry tomatoes instead.  I’m all about substituting, as you can tell!

    Following is a picture of the final product.  We served it with grilled chicken and some sort of vegetable.  Honestly, it was so long ago I don’t remember what it was, but it was probably fresh green beans from the farmer’s market.

    Be sure to check back later this week for a guest post from Aviva Goldfarb and yes….a giveaway!

    Review and Blog Tour: Angel Lane by Sheila Roberts

     

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  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin (September 29, 2009)
  • ISBN-10: 0312384823
  • Source: Publisher
  •  

    Heart Lake is a small, quiet lake-side town.  It seems to be experiencing a bit of growing-pains, however.  Citizens are no longer courteous to one another and it’s beginning to loose its Mayberry feeling.

    The three main characters (Jaime, Sarah, and Emma) are local shop owners and close friends.  They decide to come up with a way to bring the “heart” back into Heart Lake.  Each of them decides to do one good deed a day in the hopes that their actions influence those of others, a sort of pay-it-forward campaign.

    In the midst of this campaign, each of the main characters are experiencing their own personal drama. 

    Jaime, Sarah’s niece, works at the town’s chocolate store.  She moved to Heart Lake to get away from an abusive marriage.  She’s in no rush to get into another relationship.  However, when she crosses the path of Jake Armstrong, a widower raising two young girls, her world is upended.  She’s proud of her independence and doesn’t want to get hurt again. But Jake is hard to resist. 

    Sarah is experiencing serious grandchild withdrawl after her daughter’s family moves away.  She’s been a part of their lives since they were born and their absence is noticable.  Her good deed is to provide cooking classes to a handful of the young girls in town.  Her efforts seem to be in vain when one of her students takes advantage of her kindness.

    Emma feels like a failure when her beloved quilt shop fails to take off.  She has a handful of customers, including one who always seems to forget her checkbook, and Emma has allowed her to create a pretty hefty tab. Will hard work ever pay off?

     Have you ever picked up a book, start reading it, instantly falling in love with the characters?  That’s what happened when I started reading Angel Lane.  I became wrapped up in the characters lives within the first few pages.  Roberts writes a very inspiring tale of how the actions of three individuals can influence an entire town.  My life has been very hectic for the past few weeks, but the citizens of Heart Lake provided me with a bit of peace.  And I’d be remiss not to mention the delicous recipes listed at the end of the book. I will definitely be trying out a number of them, specifically the one for pumpkin cookies!

    I don’t like to compare one author’s writing to another’s, but I can’t help but notice a similarity between Roberts’ writing with that of Debbie Macomber.  Both women write inspiring tales revolving around a small-town community. Each have endearing characters that you can’t help but fall in love with.

    If you are looking for a relaxing, easy read, then Angel Lane is the book for you. Now that I’ve finished reading it, I miss the characters. They really became part of my life. They’ve inspired me to pay-it-forward as well. I do hope the author has a sequel or a follow-up planned in the near future!

    Thank you to Pump Up Your Book Promotion for giving me the opportunity to take part in this tour!