Frightful Friday: Zombie Fallout by Mark Tufo

Frightful Friday is a regular meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.This week’s featured title is Zombie Fallout by Mark Tufo:

  • Listening Length: 10 hours and 30 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook, Unabridged
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio (March 26, 2012)
  • Source: Personal copy
  • Narrated by: Sean Runnette

As the  H1N1 virus runs rampant throughout the country, people line up to receive the vaccine.  Unfortunately, the rush to get the vaccine to the market didn’t allow time for testing.  Within days, those who obtained the vaccine have died, only to rise again.

Michael Talbot is a ex-marine and self-proclaimed survivalist. He’s been preparing for a situation like this all of his life and has an inventory of food rations and weapons at the ready. Tucked in the save haven of Little Turtle, their neighborhood community the Talbots, joined by Walmart greeter Tommy, prepare to face the unknown.  Tommy isn’t as physically capable to withstand the zombies as the others in this motley group, yet the foresight he brings through the voice in his head (Ryan Seacrest), saves the group on several occasions.  One such threat is a female zombie who appears to be vastly more superior than the rest of the walking dead around her. Why is she obsessed with the Talbots? Is she there to help, or to hinder, their survival?

I know, I know. Reading the summary and this sounds like the most ridiculous book ever. However, this book (the first in a long, successful series) is likely to be my favorite zombie series every. Tufo creates a wholly terrifying world in which a simple flu virus wipes out the population. It doesn’t get any scarier than that, right? Add to that a cast of characters so genuine and believable, so much so that you want to know them in “real-life” and you have the recipe for a truly stellar series.

Michael Talbot is, by far, one of my favorite protagonists ever. I mentioned that he’s a former marine, but he’s also a severe germaphobe.  He adds a level of hilarity, paired with compassion and a deep love for his family and friends.  Without his character, I feel this novel would be severely lacking. One moment I’m laughing, the next I’m terrified at the fate that befalls this family.

Tommy is another endearing character you can’t help but love. Tommy worked with Talbot’s son at the local Walmart. They just happened upon him during a rescue and quickly realize it is fate that brought them together. Tommy’s passion lies in what he will eat next (likely a PopTart) but within him resides a power to see the future.

To say this series is addictive is an understatement. The moment I finished the audio for this title, I downloaded the next. I’m thankful there are several more books to this series but also fearful as to how I will deal once I reach the end.  The idea is almost as terrifying as a zombie apocalypse.

As mentioned, I listed to the audio production of this book. I don’t know that I would have the same experience had I read it.  The narrator’s (Sean Runnette) voice closely resembles that of Richard Romano (Everyone Loves Ramond). While I was unfamiliar with his voice work before, I can no longer imagine anyone else narrating this series.  His voice has the uncanny ability to be completely series one moment and in a flash switch to something outrageously crude or hilarious, without skipping a beat. He honestly adds an element to the overall reading/listening experience that truly makes this series a success.

Bottom line: if you are looking for an addictive and unique piece of zombie fiction, you can’t afford to miss out on this one. Highly, highly recommended!

Review: The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (October 14, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781616203313
  • Source: Personal copy

When Eric, a small town lawyer in Maine, hears a prediction for a “storm of the century,” he closes his office early and heads to the grocery store to stock up on supplies. There he comes across Danielle, young woman unable to cover the cost of her overflowing cart of groceries. Feeling charitable, he pays for her groceries and offers her a ride home.

As they arrive at her “home,” it is quickly apparent to Eric that she can’t possibly weather this storm without his help.  Danielle has been squatting in a remote cabin deep in the woods. Without electricity, plumbing, water or firewood, there is no chance she can survive the storm, much less a long, cold winter.  Despite Danielle’s protestations, Eric lends aid to at least get her through this storm. As he goes to leave, he finds his truck has been towed, cell phone inside, and no means of communicating with the outside world.  Reluctantly, he trudges back to Danielle’s cabin. Furious, she reluctantly allows him to come indoors. Forced to rely on one another, Eric and Danielle must seek safety, and ultimately comfort, in one another if they are going to survive this storm.

The Remedy for Love is certainly not the type of book I would typically be drawn too. Two vastly different characters, forced together by an act of nature, really not my sort of thing.  Yet dozens of people were talking about it and how quickly they were captivated by its embrace. Stuck in a week-long reading slump, I was desperate. I picked it up. I didn’t put it down until a few hours later as I turned the last page.

Roorbach’s eloquent and truly breathtaking prose captivated me.  The way he describes the most mundane things gives them the appearance of something that far exceeds their actual identity. He has crafted a story of two vastly different people, drawn together seemingly by circumstance. The ultimate realization that it is fate, not a winter storm, that brought these two people together, takes this novel to a completely different level.

Eric and his wife are separated. Their initial attempts to meet up once a month to work on their relationship has failed. He still goes on with hope that their relationship will be rekindled, that their time apart will come to and end.  His warm and caring character is the complete opposite to Danielle’s rough, and caustic one. She, too, is married. Alone after her  husband is sent to fight in the war, she struggles to get by after losing her teaching job. While Eric is more upfront and open about his life, Danielle only shares what she thinks is safe. It isn’t until she opens herself up completely to Eric that it quickly becomes apparent that these two individuals are fare more similar than they could have imagined. Both in denial about a loss in their lives, it’s just not the storm they need to ride out and survive but the acceptance that the life they had known is never going to recover. The cabin, their shelter as they weather the storm, is a symbol of the life they each have built up to withstand the battles of life. Under the weight of the storm, both the cabin, and the resolve and denial they have built up over time, slowly groans and crumbles.

I cannot recommend this title enough. It won me over instantly, not only helping me overcome my reading slump but forcing me to open my eyes and embrace a novel I normally wouldn’t have picked up on my own. Its message and beauty are inspiring, a lasting and moving story that will resound within me for some time. Without a doubt this novel will top my favorites of not only this year, but of all time.  Highly, highly recommended.

Thankfully Reading Weekend 2014

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Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away. Can you believe it? I’m pleased to announce that I will once again be hosting Thankfully Reading Weekend, November 27-30! Want to avoid the crowds & shopping on Black Friday? Plan on spending a nice, quiet holiday at home? Join us!

Just what is this Thankfully Reading Weekend I speak of?  Here are the details:

There are no rules to the weekend, we’re simply hoping to devote a good amount of time to reading, and perhaps meeting some of our reading challenges and goals for the year. We thought it’d be fun if we cheered each other on a bit. If you think you can join in, grab the button  and add your sign up post to the link-up below. If you don’t have a blog, you can sign up the comments or sign up using a link to your Twitter account or Faceboook page!

Want to host a challenge? Email me directly at jennsbookshelf@gmail.com.

We’ll also be checking in on Twitter using hashtag #thankfullyreading. Join in for the weekend or for only a single day. No rules, no pressure!




2014 Murder, Monsters & Mayhem Wrap-up!

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Each year, as Murder, Monsters & Mayhem comes to an end, I always experience bittersweet feelings.  While I love horror and thriller titles, specifically sharing my favorites with you all, I do look forward to the opportunity to read something a little lighter and less…deadly.  With that said, I really had a lot of fun this year and I hope you did as well. Here’s a quick wrap-up of what transpired this month:

 

Did you have a favorite?

Remember to link up your horror/thriller posts on the Murder, Monsters & Mayhem link-up page! I’ll keep this page live for the next several weeks.

Finally, the winner of the “Do You Believe in Ghosts?” ghost story contest is…..Kelly Rochford from A Book and a Beer! In case you missed it, her ghost story is entry #6!

That wraps all up! Again, I really do hope you enjoyed this year’s Murder, Monsters & Mayhem! I’d love to hear your comments (yes, complaints) and suggestions for future celebrations!

Review: The Art of Eating Through the Zombie Apocalypse: A Cookbook and Culinary Survival Guide by Lauren Wilson

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Smart Pop (October 28, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781940363363
  • Source: Publisher

The zombie apocalypse is here. There’s more to survival than escaping the deadly grasp of the walking dead. Your survival will be quite limited if you don’t have a means of sustaining your food supply. Here’s where The Art of Eating Through the Zombie Apocalypse: A Cookbook and Culinary Survival Guide comes in handy.  Chock full of survival tips, including how to pack a survival kit and filter your water, as well as recipes and suggestions on maintaining your food supply.

My boys & I opted to try the recipe for Overnight of the Living Dead French Toast. Despite the gritty and gory illustration, we actually enjoyed this meal!Overnight of the Living Dead French Toast photo

The prep is quite simple. What I really liked about it was this meal can be prepared either out of doors (if the zombies have raided your home) or in the comfort and safety of your own home (if you are one of the rare few who can seek shelter in your home).

 

Bugging In or Nouveau Home Cuisine

The recipes here are quick, simple, calorie rich, and, perhaps most importantly, comforting. Yes, that’s right, they’re the zpoc equivalent of the post-financial-crisis comfort food trend. So get ready for warm, indulgent, and satisfying meals that can be fixed in a jiffy and/or need minimal attendance. These recipes are geared to the first days of the outbreak—when the power is either still running or has just gone out—and so, will focus on perishable ingredients that most people would have on hand in their refrigerators and freezers

 

Overnight of the Living Dead French Toast

Yields: 4 Hungry Survivor servings, 6 Regular Joe servings

 

Welcome to the zombie apocalypse! Tomorrow is a big day: you will be losing your head (hopefully not literally) trying to fend off the newly infected. On top of that, those pesky little weak spots in your fortress will surely present themselves, leaving you overwhelmed with survival and physical defense–focused activities.

Before you go to sleep tonight (if it even seems safe to do so), why not plan ahead for breakfast? Not only will it help use up some of your perishables (milk, eggs, butter, bread), it will also give you a calorie-rich jumpstart to your undead-filled day.

If the power has already gone out, reduce the amount of time you soak the bread to a couple of hours and use an Oven Hack (page 6) to cook this bad boy.

 

Requires:

Chef’s or survival knife and cutting board

1 bread knife

1 small mixing bowl

1 mixing spoon

1 fireproof baking dish (preferably 7″ x 11″)

1 large bowl

1 whisk (or fork)

Piece of foil, to cover baking dish

 

Heat Source:

Indirect, conventional oven or other Oven Hack (page 6)

 

Time:

10 minutes prep

4-8 hours inactive soaking time

35 minutes unattended cooking time

 

Ingredients:

¼ c. (4 tbsp.) butter, melted

½ c. brown sugar

12 oz. bread (challah, raisin, French baguette, Wonder—whatever you got, preferably a mix of several different kinds), sliced into strips 2–3 fingers wide

½ c. dried cranberries or raisins

6 eggs

2 tbsp. granulated sugar

1 ½ c. milk, cream, or combination

1 tbsp. vanilla extract

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. ground nutmeg

½ tsp. ground ginger

Pinch of salt

3 tbsp. rum, orange liqueur, or brandy (optional)

1 c. nuts (walnuts, pecans, or almonds), roughly chopped and preferably toasted

Maple syrup, to taste

Method:

  1. Mix together the melted butter and brown sugar in a small mixing bowl. Spread the mixture along the bottom of the baking dish.
  2. Put down a layer of bread fingers, overlapping and filling gaps where needed. Sprinkle with dried fruit. Repeat with remaining bread and fruit.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk eggs and granulated sugar together until the sugar has dissolved, about 1 minute. Add the milk/cream, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, pinch of salt, and liquor/liqueur (if using). Whisk until incorporated.
  4. Pour the custard over the bread and dried fruit, sweeping back and forth to moisten the whole top layer, filling any nooks and crannies. Cover with foil and let sit for 2 hours (no refrigeration) or at least 4 hours to overnight (in the fridge).
  5. Preheat oven (for perhaps the last time!) to 375°F or set up an Oven Hack (see Judging Temperature, page 7).
  6. Remove foil from the baking dish and sprinkle with the toasted nuts (if using). Drizzle lightly with maple syrup.
  7. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes, then cover and bake for another 15 minutes to avoid overbrowning. Check after 20 minutes or so—cooking time will vary widely depending on your setup.
  8. The French toast is ready when the custard at the center feels set (i.e., not jiggly, squishy, or raw). Let stand for 5–10 minutes, then drizzle liberally with more maple syrup before tucking in.

 

Since I had the pleasure of assistance from my two boys, the final product doesn’t look all that pretty (they were all about literally creating french toast “fingers”) but the taste was divine!

PicMonkey Collage

 

Bottom line: whether or not you are trying to survive the zombie apocalypse or not, The Art of Eating Through the Zombie Apocalypse: A Cookbook and Culinary Survival Guide is a handy guide to general, every day survival.  It’s a perfect holiday gift for the outdoorsy type (my two Scouts loved it!)

Highly recommended. We can’t wait to try out another recipe!

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Review: The House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press; First Edition edition (July 15, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781250041272
  • Source: Library copy

Catherine’s life is in shambles. Loss of her previous job forced her to leave London. With a new job, she thought her life was on track, until her boyfriend, Michael, ended their relationship abruptly.  When Catherine is presented with a new project, she’s initially reluctant to take it. Asked to catalogue a collection of antique dolls and puppets, it would require her to take up residence in the eccentric collector’s home. The last thing she needs right now is to be uprooted from her life, but the rare opportunity she’s been granted forbids her from saying no.

Upon her arrival to Red House, Catherine is introduced to Mason’s elderly niece. The eccentric woman shows Catherine her uncle’s collection of preserved and clothed rodents, each depicting a brutal scene from the Great War. As her time at Red House continues, Catherine can’t help but wonder of something darker, and more sinister, resides within its walls.  When the visions and trances that plagued her as a child return, she is haunted by the darkness she thought therapy had erased.  Excerpts of her memory come flooding back, producing a confusion between dreams and reality that threaten her sanity.

If the cover of The House of Small Shadows isn’t chilling enough, the story that resides within will terrify you. Taxidermy, creepy dolls and puppets….I shiver just thinking about it.  Add the stark, cold setting Nevill creates in the Red House and you have the perfect recipe for a truly terrifying horror novel.  It’s not just a scary, haunted house. It has a heaviness and darkness that permeates all senses.

There’s no denying Nevill is a tremendously talented author. Yet what makes his work stand out is how it takes you off guard, completely unsuspecting of what you are about to experience. Going in, I read the synopsis. I was prepared for a spooky house filled with creepy dolls. But Nevill went far beyond that to create a storyline so chilling and terrifying, I still have goosebumps every time I think about it.

The pacing is slow and deliberate, reminiscent of the classic Gothic ghost story. Nevill puts great effort into developing the mood and tone, crafting each word and phrase to create a stunningly terrifying read.  He doesn’t use gore or gruesome scenes to relay terror, instead relying upon the psychological aspects of the fears that reside within us all.

I highly recommend The House of Small Shadows and, frankly, all of Nevill’s work, to fans of horror fiction. He’s an author whose work you will read once and become an instant, enduring fan. Highly, highly recommended.

 

Vote for the Scariest Ghost Story!

As Murder, Monsters & Mayhem nears the end, I was thrilled to see all the entries for scariest ghost story! My initial plan was to select the winner myself, but as the entries continued to come in, I found it difficult to decide! Therefore, I’m opening up the judging to you, readers of this blog.

I’ve included all entries below. I intentionally removed the identities of those who submitted so that won’t be used as a deciding factor. Read all the entries, then select your favorite! There are quite a few entries, so use the scroll bar on the side to view them all!

Rules: You may vote once per day. The winner will be announced on Halloween (of course)! The winner will receive an assortment of books I have featured as part of Murder, Monster & Mayhem.


 

Review: Of Monsters and Madness by Jessica Verday

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: EgmontUSA (September 9, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781606844632
  • Source: Library copy

After her mother passes away, Annabel Lee is summoned from Siam to Philadelphia to live with her father.  Never knowing him growing up, the father/daughter bond has much to be desired.  His physical ailments and secretive line of work forms a wedge in their already struggling relationship.

It isn’t long after her arrival that a rash of murders devastate the city. Her father’s strange behavior forces Annabel to question his involvement. Unaccustomed to the city life, she has very few that she could consider friends. Her father’s assistant, Allan, dotes on Annabel with unabashed kindness.  When he’s not working with her father, Allan dabbles in writing, with hopes of producing volumes of poetry. Allan’s polar opposite is Edgar, a cousin who has an uncanny resemblance to Allan.  As Annabel attempts to learn more about Allan’s brusque cousin, she learns that she is the only one who has ever born witness to his existence.

With strange, late night visitors to her father’s basement laboratory and the victims of murders hitting close to home, Annabel Lee soon discovers that evil lurks nearby. The identity of the brutal killer is more shocking than she could have ever imagined.

In this unique take on the classic Edgar Allan Poe, Verday creates a mash-up of Poe’s classics with that of  Jekyll & Hyde.  A fan of Poe’s work myself, I generally resist reading any retellings of his work. That said, Of Monsters and Madness had a unique enough spin to it that I threw out any misgivings and devoured it as soon as I could get my hands on a copy.

While I enjoyed the unique storyline, I felt myself craving more from the characters, specifically that of Annabel Lee. Her identity and link to Edgar Allan Poe is a given and we are teased with hints to her past, but I wanted to know more. Her character is a strong one; she’s desperate to become a doctor despite her father’s attempts to dissuade her. She is terrified that her father’s obsession with the macabre runs in her blood as well.  Yet, despite all this there is so much we still don’t know about her. She wears a scarf to hide scars on her neck, yet we have no idea what caused them.

 

The fact this is the first in a new series gives me a modicum of hope, but also some trepidation. While I’m thrilled to know Annabel’s story will be continued, I wonder what else there is to tell. I’ll hold further judgement until I read the next book, Of Phantoms and Fury, due out in September of 2015.

 

Week in Review: October 26, 2014

With family in town last weekend, despite my attempts to participate in the readathon I was pretty AWOL from the blog. I have two weeks of posts to catch you up on!  We’re coming in on the last week of Murder, Monsters & Mayhem. I hope you’ve enjoyed the wide range of books I’ve been recommending!

Here’s what happened in the last two weeks on the blog:

 

Brown_ladyAs the end of Murder, Monsters & Mayhem nears, so does your opportunity to submit your ghost story for the “Do You Believe in Ghosts” contest. I’ve received quite a few scary stories, both through email and posted in the comments. Have one to share? If you win, you’ll win a copy of many of the books I’ve posted about this month.

Additionally, everyone who links up a horror/thriller/supernatural post  will win a special “goody bag” for participating.

How was your reading week?

Review: A Vision of Fire by Gillian Anderson & Jeff Rovin

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon451 (October 7, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781476776521
  • Source: Publisher

When Maanik, the daughter of India’s ambassador to the United Nations, starts experiencing fits of screaming and terror, child psychologist Caitlin O’Hara is called in for consultation. Maanik was recently witness to an assassination attempt against her father and Caitlin is certain the stress  of the attack is the root of the problem.  Maanik’s condition tears her father away from sensitive peace talks between India and Pakistan. Each moment he spends with his daughter threatens any hope of resolution between the two countries; a war seems imminent.

When Caitlin receives reports of other teenagers experiencing strange symptoms,she wonders if something else is responsible for these seemingly unrelated incidents.  A Haitian student drowns on dry land. An Iranian boy intentionally sets himself on fire.  The root cause of these strange occurrences doesn’t appear to be medically based, so Caitlin leans more toward to metaphysical in an attempt to obtain answers.

In this first book in a trilogy, Anderson and Rovin have crafted a techno-thriller that is so unique, it is certain to captivate the most pickiest of readers.  A gamut of storylines and subplots are revealed, expected in book one of a trilogy.  Their connections are quite vague, likely intentionally to spread out the pacing deliberately throughout the trilogy.

What is developed well, and with great detail, are the characters. Caitlin is a hardworking, single mom. Her exchanges with her son, partially deaf, round out her passionate and thoughtful character. It’s obvious that she doesn’t expect anything in her life to come easy, a fact that certainly rings through in this, her most recent of cases.

After reading this days ago, in one sitting, I’m still struggling to wrap my thoughts around my feelings. There is quite a bit to wrap my mind around; I’m hoping the second book will iron out the questions that are riddling my brain. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy this novel, for it’s reactions and experiences like this, those that aren’t necessarily automatic or certain, that quantify an excellent novel.

Note that I have yet to make the connection between one of the authors, Gillian Anderson, and X-Files. I intentionally refused to acknowledge the connection while reading this novel. I’m assuming many will do the opposite, for now that I have read it, I did feel it had the supernatural feel of the show. Like the show, instead of answering my questions, I found I actually had more by the end.  Does Caitlin’s character have any resemblance to Anderson’s character Scully? No, not really.  While both were medical doctors, Caitlin is far more open to atypical explanations than skeptical Scully every would have been.  The only comparison I would draw is that both are strong and capable women, desperate to find the answers to the unexplainable.

For all these reasons, this is a book that I would honestly recommend to anyone and everyone. For one, I need someone else to read it so I have someone to discuss it with. Secondly, since it covers a wide range of themes and topic points, It’s certainly a read that will generate discussion and chatter. Highly recommended.