The Beauty and the Beast Book Tag

Heya Everyone! I was recently tagged by The Audiobookworm in this fun book tag. Feel free to comment on my book choices or to add your own for each category in the comments. I’m going to tag a few people at the end, but if you want to throw up a post with your answers, leave me your link in the comments so I can swing by.

1. “Tale As Old As Time” – A popular theme, trope or setting you will never get bored of reading.

Theme – Underdog

BrownRedRisingThe Red Rising series by Pierce Brown was excellent. Can’t wait to see more from this author. If you’re not familiar with the series, it’s a mash up of Roman mythology/military command structure with terraforming of Mars and beyond. Be proud of your scars. You’ve earned them!

BernheimerConfessionsOfDListSupervillainD-List Supervillain series by Jim Bernheimer – which is just a lot of damn fun! Mostly, the supervillains in this series are just anti-organization. The various super-characters are imaginative and there’s plenty of humor.

Trope – Artificial Intelligence

DircksTheWrongUnitI recently read a whole bunch of AI stuff. The Wrong Unit by Rob Dircks was a delight. It had that right mix of humor and serious bits. The AI units are programmed to learn to care for their humans, so the anthropomorphizing of the AI units is realistically built into the story.

PerreaultProgenyRay Jay Perreault has written several stories that feature AI and I have been enjoying making my way through his audiobooks. Progeny is one of my favorite AI stories, though his AIs run the gamut of cold, calculating evil to human-like societal beings.

Heldig and Chupa being anything but helpful.

Serengeti by JB Rockwell was super intense in several ways. The story starts off with a space battle and the AIs are the ships, though they all have human crews. This space battle takes perhaps as much as half the book. Then the second half is the story of this one ship trying to limp home. The humans have to go into stasis, so that just leaves the ship’s AI and her little AI minion bots. The struggle to reach their goal, to stay sane over the lengthy years, to keep functioning just enough to keep the human crew alive – just an excellent tale.

Setting – Ancient Times

There’s plenty of stuff that happened in ancient times. Most of it is interesting, gritty, and dramatic. Here’s a list of some of the stuff I’ve read so far and have really enjoyed.

SmithRiseOfZenobiaConn Iggulden’s Emperor series – This series focuses on Julius Caesar, starting with his boyhood years and going all the way through his life to the dramatic, bitter end.

The Rise of Zenobia by JD Smith – set during the Roman empire in the Syrian city of Palmyra. I learned from this book and that always is a plus.

John Maddox Roberts’s SPQR murder mystery series – Set in 1st century ancient Rome during the time of Crassus and Pompey. Who could resist murder mystery and ancient Rome? Not me!

Patrick Bowman’s retelling of The Odyssey for young adults – The Odyssey of the Slave series. In this series, the focus is on a young lad who is taken as a slave when the famous city of Troy falls.

Colossus by Colin Falconer – This is a tale of Alexander the Great. Technically, it’s an alternate history, but if you don’t know much abut Alexander and the arc of his life, you wouldn’t know it. I really enjoyed this tale – elephants!

The Sekhmet Bed by LM Ironside – set in ancient Egypt. Ahmose was raised up to Great Royal Wife status. Political intrigue plays a big role in this story.

RobertsClaimedByTheEnemyRise to Power by Uvi Poznansky – set in the land of Israel in the 1st or 2nd century BCE. This is the first book in a series about David and his rise to power told from a secular point of view.

Claimed by the Enemy by Shauna Roberts – despite the title and the cover art, this book is pretty darn good. Set in ancient Mesopotamia during the time of King Sargon, the book focuses on two young individuals who were placed in difficult positions.

2. Belle – A book you bought for it’s beautiful cover that’s just as beautiful inside too

KayUnderHeavenGuy Gavriel Kay never fails to provide a beautiful story and his covers are always so well done. Recently, I read Children of Earth and Sky, and the cover is indeed just as beautiful as the tale inside. If you said I had to pick my favorite GGK novel, I would be hard-pressed to say which it was. His Sarantium duology is about the fall of an empire, so plenty of vast ideas going on there but with excellent pinpoint characters that do a great job of showing the human side. I also loved The Lions of Al-Rassan, which is based on Moorish Spain. There’s plenty of areas of conflict but also plenty of areas for commonality. I could go on and on, but you should just go pick up some GGK for yourself.

Slinky was chewing on my shoes so I gave her a book to look at.

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear was one of my favorite reads of 2015. The cover did a great job of capturing the Wild West and Steampunk mix of the story. Karen was also a wonderful character, not being a stereotypical kick ass heroine that are so abundant lately. She does kick ass, she’s just also a real person who happens to be brave when backed into a corner.

3. Beast – A book you didn’t expect much from but pleasantly surprised you.

AllendeZorroZorro by Isabel Allende was a pleasant surprise. In essence, it was an origin story for Zorro. I loved watching the black & white TV show was a kid so it was pretty cool to read this book and get Allende’s take on how Zorro came to be. There was a lot more depth to this character than I expected, which, in retrospect, was silly of me. Zorro lived during a time of Spanish colonialism in the New World – there were plenty of cultures and conflicts. Allende did a great job of pulling those elements into this tale.

ClinesTheFoldThe Fold by Peter Clines was one of the best SF Thriller novels I have read. It was fun. It was intense. It had SF themes that I could get into. The characters were also interesting, especially the lead guy who has a true eidetic memory. This was both a help and a hindrance to him.

King11226311-22-63 by Stephen King is the first King novel I have read. It won’t be the last. King did a really great job with the characters in this book. I know some folks have labeled him as a horror novelist, and nothing more. However, this book shows that he has a lot more going on. It’s obvious he put quite a bit of research in to the time and location (1963, Texas) of the bulk of the book. While I do expect that as I explore King’s works, this novel won’t be my favorite but it certainly delivered more than I expected.

4. Gaston – A book everyone loves that you don’t.

Luxor looking for another human who will do his will.

Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel – I was on the fence about this one. I liked that it was a post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel that wasn’t full of angst. However, I didn’t really care for the character Arthur Leander, who all the other characters are somehow connected with. He was boring and I wanted to know more about these other characters but the story kept coming back to him.

CoehloAlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo – it’s a young man’s adventure quest and it’s been done so many times before. All the ladies are in some subservient role, which is also a standard (unfortunately) in such adventure tales. Most of the men have a Personal Legend to find or to fullfill. Meanwhile, the 3 female characters lack any such ambition.

Grahame-SmithAbrahamLincolnVampireHunterAbraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith – The most exciting parts of this book were the dream sequences and even those were mean tricks. The reader enters each of the dream sequences as if they are the next part of the story and only at the end of the scene do you realize it’s a dream. I really liked Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and his Unholy Nights was pretty entertaining as well, so I was sad to say that I found this book to be a snoozer.

5. Lefou – A loyal sidekick you can’t help but love more than their counter part.

LynchTheLiesOfLockeLamoraJean Tannen from The Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch – This series is full of creative cursing, thievery, camaraderie, magic, death, romance, pirates, evil people getting their due, the good guys getting the crap beaten out of them, and more creative cursing.

PriestBloodshotHeldigAdrian from the Cheshire Red Reports by Cherie Priest – Adrian is still a bit of a mystery, since I have only read the first 2 books in this series (I hope there will be more in the series!). He’s ex-military on a search for his missing kid sister. He’s also a dragqueen, and his parents have disowned him because of this. He makes a great sidekick for Raylene, the vampire thief.

6. Mrs. Potts, Chip, Lumier & Cogsworth – A book that helped you through a difficult time or that taught you something valuable.

For over a year now, I have been going through this medical thing. I’ve basically been on bed rest for a year now and I was finally diagnosed in May with CTEPH – which is basically blood clots that have hardened in my pulmonary arteries, which has caused pulmonary hypertension to a moderately high degree, which will be fatal…. in perhaps 6-10 years, unless I have this big, kinda cool in a SF way, kinda scary in a mortality rate way, surgery. That’s scheduled for early February. So, these books have helped me cope with this lengthy process.

Good cat, good book, what else does one need?

Enchanted Forest by Johanna Basford – this is a coloring book for adults and it’s the first one I ever bought. It’s remarkably detailed and it’s pretty amazing how coloring really takes me out of my current situation. Also, it’s something I  can do while listening to audiobooks.

CareyKushiel'sDartTerre D’Ange Cycle by Jacqueline Carey – This series has been awesome and I have been part of a group read along with several wonderful ladies on the blogosphere. I’ve read Book 1, Kushiel’s Dart, so many times but it was quite something to share it with others in this in-depth discussion of the book. We started the read along back in May 2015, and now we’re on Book 7, Naamah’s Kiss. We’ll have to finish the last two books after my surgery – so that gives me something to look forward to. If you haven’t checked this series out, then I highly recommend it for alternate history and epic fantasy fans. I know sometimes it gets panned because there is plenty of sex in it, but the amount sex doesn’t outweigh all the awesomeness – the political intrigue, the sword fights, the desperate straights of the heroes, the saving of the realm! Honestly, the sex enhances the characters instead of just being padding to up the page count.

7. “Something There” – A book or a series that you weren’t into at first but picked up towards the end.

JordanPathOfDaggersThe Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan – It took me about 4 books to really get into this series, but I’m very glad I read it as it is a touchstone for epic fantasy fans. The first book really took a lot from Tolkien’s works and I was bit insulted the first and second time I read it. However, I was encouraged by a great group of book bloggers, who were part of this big 2+ years-long read along of the series, to keep going. Also, in an interview, Jordan spoke about how he wanted to model Book 1 on Tolkien’s works to give readers something familiar. Eventually, starting at Book 4, Jordan’s genius really starts to show through. I am very much hoping they do make this series in to a quality TV series or a quality series of movies.

8. “Be Our Guest” – A fictional character you’d love to have over for dinner.

ButcherDeadBeatHarry Dresden & Bob the Skull from Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files – This is one of my favorite urban fantasy series. The first few can be read in any order, but I think the series is best read in order since the larger story arc starts really building on itself around Book 4 or 5, though there are small things even in Book 1 that are tied into again later in the series. Bob would be a hoot at any dinner party. He doesn’t get much socializing, so he lacks all those hindrances that make most dinner conversations so dull.

HearneShatteredAtticus & Oberon from Kevin Hearne’s The Iron Druid Chronicles – this is yet another favorite urban fantasy series. Oberon would bring the appetite and the humor with his simple doggy demands. Atticus, being the 2000+ year old druid that he is, would be able to chat about several entertaining subjects.

Tagging Others

So now I would like to tag some other bookish folks, though please don’t feel obligated if this isn’t your cup of tea. Also, if I don’t tag you but you want to play along, please do! And leave me a comment with a link to your post so I can visit.

Lynn from Books and Travelling

Andrea from Little Red Reviewer

Julie from Oh, Julie!

Austine from Novel Knight

Book Wins from Novel Knight
Book Wins from Novel Knight

And I would like to smash into this long post a big thank you to Austine! I won a very fun book package from her recently. It was full of books and bookish things and fake tattoos and a red mask and nail art. And then she wrapped everything in gold paper! This box of goodies was such an upper, especially since I have been sick. I loved unwrapping everything and modeling the mask, tattoos, and nail art for my man. Thank you Austine!

A Time Travel Tagging

I was recently tagged by Lynn over at Books & Travelling with Lynn. The subject is all about books and time traveling, in one way or another. I really enjoy these tag posts as they often give me something to talk about without having to use a lot of brainpower. Here are the Q&A.

SummersOwlDanceWhat is your favorite historical setting for a book?

It’s hard to pick just one. I’ve read plenty of stories set in ancient Greece (Mary Renault), Roman murder mysteries & ‘celebrities’ (John Maddox Roberts, Conn Iggulden), and the 1800s of the American West (David Lee Summers, Cherie Priest). Also, the Tudor era attracts me. In fact, I’m currently wrapped up in Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory.

AsimovStarsLikeDustWhat writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?

Isaac Asimov is near the top of my list. His books feature prominently in my childhood/teen years. I read his Lucky Starr series but also many of his adult novels. For kicks, I’d love to meet Homer and put to rest the age-old argument on whether Homer was male or female or collection of authors. I wouldn’t mind meeting Pearl S. Buck. Her novel, The Good Earth, was required reading in both the 5th and 9th grades (I moved and changed school districts, so that’s why I got hit twice with this classic) and I loved it both times. She had a very interesting life and it wouldn’t just be her books I’d pester her with questions about, but also her travel and years living in China.

LynchTheLiesOfLockeLamoraWhat book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

There’s so much good stuff out today! Apart from a few classics, most of the ‘safe’ or required reading I had access to as a kid was boring and often felt fake or like it was missing a big element of life – you know, all the gooey, messy bits that make all the good parts that much better. Luckily, I had full access to any SFF novel in the house and there were plenty of those. So to supplement my childhood bookshelf, I would give myself Andy Weir’s The Martian, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.

Chupacabra
Chupacabra

What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?

I would speed ahead to my future self and hand her a copy of Robert E. Howard’s stories. His writing is some of the best I have enjoyed and yet several of his stories, Conan or otherwise, have certain sexist and racist elements that really repel me. This book would remind me that humans, including myself, are flawed and that things change over the years, such as views on a woman’s proper role in high fantasy adventure. Yet despite these shortcomings, a person can still love a story, or a person, or a country, etc.

ChaneyTheAmberProjectWhat is your favorite futuristic setting from a book?

I always enjoy closed systems and several feature in SF stories. These are domed cities (Logan’s Run by Nolan & Johnson), underground villages (The Amber Project series by JN Chaney), underwater towns (Lucky Starr & the Oceans of Venus by Isaac Asimov), very large space stations (The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey), etc.. There’s the wonder of discovering these places, seeing how they are supposedly working and will go on working forever, and then watching it all come apart in some horrible way that means death for most of the people in the story. Yeah, welcome to my little demented side.

 

Grahame-SmithAustenPrideAndPrejudiceAndZombiesWhat is your favorite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?

For fun, I wouldn’t mind visiting Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I really like the idea of making polite ball jokes, decapitating zombies, working out in the dojo, and politely trading British insults over tea. Honestly, I think that is the only way I would survive the Victorian era.

RobertsTheKingsGambitSpoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?

Back when I was eyeball reading printed books (I do mostly audiobooks now) I had a ritual. I would start a book and at that moment that I knew I was hooked, that I had fallen in love with the story, I would turn to the last page and read the last sentence. Most of the time this didn’t spoil anything, but every once in a while there would be a final line that gave away an important death or such.

PriestMaplecroftIf you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

Actually, I do have a Time Turner. My husband bought it for me at the start of September while he was at an SCA event. It was right after we learned that I was quite sick but a few weeks before we learned just how sick. So, lots of bitter sweet emotions tied up with that piece of jewelry.

Anyhoo, if I had a working one, I would go everywhere and do everything. I would start with planning things that Bill and I have wanted to do together (like celebrating Beltane in a pre-Christian era) and then add in things that I have always wanted to do but which my be a big snooze fest for Bill (such as Charles Darwin’s Beagle voyage).

JonasAnubisNightsFavorite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?

Currently, I’m enjoying the Jonathan Shade series by Gary Jonas. Time travel really becomes an element in this urban fantasy series in the second trilogy with Ancient Egypt featuring prominently. I also adore Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I finally read a Stephen King novel, 11-22-63. The characters were great even as the underlying premise was only so-so for me. The Dinosaur Four by Geoff Jones was a fun, crazy creature feature.

ButcherColdDaysWhat book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, for sure. I’ve read the early books several times each and I get a laugh out of them each time. Also I would like to experience Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey all over again for the first time. That book showed me how prudish some of my ideas were when I first read it. I wonder what it would show me now? Perhaps the same thing, if indeed this book has had as big an impact on who I am as I think.

Tagging Other People

So in general with these fun tagging posts, I never want anyone to feel obligated to play along. As usual, if any of you want to play along, I definitely encourage you. You can answer any of the questions in the comments or you can throw up your own blog post and then let em know about it so I can come read it. Here are some people who I think would like this particular time travel subject:

David Lee Summers

Under My Apple Tree

Beauty Is A Sleeping Cat

On Starships & Dragonwings

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

Luxor was ambushed by this book.
Luxor was ambushed by this book.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Peter Berkrot

Publisher: Hachette Audio (2012)

Length: 9 hours 30 minutes

Author’s Page

Meet Balthazar, a thieve, occasional murderer, and con artist. From a young age, he has used his wits and flexible morals to keep himself fed and alive. He joined forces with two other criminals while in Herod’s dungeons, fleeing on camelback. They stopped to rest at a barn, only to find a slip of woman, who had recently given birth, and her husband pointing a pitchfork at them menacingly. That’s right. The three wise men mentioned in the bible were criminals in disguise and on the run.

I do believe this has become my favorite Baby Jesus story. I really enjoyed the author’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but found his other famous work Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter to be rather boring. I am glad to say that I  found this book to be pretty entertaining. I was a little worried that it would be too religious for me. But that was not the case at all.

The story is pretty gritty.  It’s a rough time historically. There’s no indoor plumbing, you have to work pretty hard for your food and shelter, and might makes right. Balthazar is a really interesting character. You don’t have to like him to be intrigued. Pretty soon he becomes known as the Antioch Ghost, being Syrian and able to flit about stealing this bit of jewelry here and that bit of coin there. Alas, he ends up on Herod’s radar and he whips his little army into a frenzy to catch the Antioch Ghost.

In Herod’s dungeons, he meets two other criminals, Gaspar and Melchyor. The three of them make a plan and escape, complete with disguises and camels. It looks like the worst is behind them, until they meet Mary and Joseph and their newborn and get caught up in Herod’s blood lust for the baby. The fighting does contain gory bits, which makes it that much more real and also shows the clear motivation for our characters to either fight or flee.

My one little criticism is one I am sure many can guess: the female characters are few and far between. Early on, there is a lady sex object that Balthazar cons out of some baubles. Then there is Mary, who starts off mute then moves to timid and eventually finds a small voice. Later in the story, there is Sela, who is a fortune teller. She is the most fleshed out of the female characters but since she comes into the story so late, we have only a little time with her. I would have liked to see a better gender balance.

OK, so back to the good stuff. I loved the humor, which was often harsh. The author doesn’t flinch from keeping things real. There is very little reverence in this story and even when you get a few touches of it, there’s still plenty of room for a reader’s personal interpretation. For instance, Balthazar doesn’t believe that Mary was a virgin, but he is most definitely against Herod and his men killing babies. Balthazar is very skeptical about any mystical or religious significance that Mary and Joseph attach to their son and for the story, this comes off as very practical.

As their adventures become more dire and injuries and deaths occur, Balthazar starts to wonder if there is some divine power helping them along. Yet if he considers that, then he has to consider if there is some malevolent force assisting Herod in his hunt for baby Jesus. I really liked that the author left the determination of this up to the reader. At the beginning of the story, I didn’t like Balthazar but he was interesting. By the end, I felt he deserved a pat on the back, a chilled beer, and a month’s worth of rest.

Narration: Peter Berkrot did a really good job with this book. He had a variety of accents and kept all his characters distinct. His voice for Balthazar was the best and he put a lot of emotion in to all the right places. While there were only a few lady characters, his female voices were believable. His voice for the spoiled, angry Herod was also well done.

What I Liked: Retelling of a classic religious story; nitty gritty; Balthazar is not a good man, but he does a good deed; the camels; plenty left up to reader’s interpretation.

What I Disliked: So few female characters!

What Others Think:

My Thoughts…Literally!

Why So Blu?

Working Preacher

Destroy the Brain

Book Giveaway & Interview: Geoff Camphire, Author of the Charlie Dead Series

CamphireCharlieDead&SoCalledZombie ApocalpseEveryone, please welcome Geoff Camphire, author of the humorous zombie Charlie Dead series! We discourse on zombie movies, what a zombie obstacle course would entail, what zombies symbolize in modern society, and plenty more. Also, don’t miss out on the paperback giveaway (US only please) – scroll to the end for details on that.

If you could be an extra on a zombie movie or TV series, what would it be?

Getting shot in the forehead with a crossbow on “The Walking Dead” would be pretty darn cool. I’d make a great zombie. I’m almost lifelike. Almost.

How does it feel, I wonder, to be a treated like a monster? In my CHARLIE DEAD trilogy (‪http://tinyurl.com/peqqlls), teenager Charlie Dunlap, newly infected with the zombie virus, fears he’s about to find out. These young-adult sci-fi novels explore life among the undead in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian America. I hope people enjoy it as much as shows like “iZombie” and “The Walking Dead.”

What’s the most interesting gross fact you know?

If punctured, the human heart can squirt blood more than 30 feet. Which can make it hard to catch it in your mouth.

If you had to choose someone to rescue you from the jaws of certain death, would it be a superhero, supernatural creature, or a space alien?

Definitely a supernatural creature. Specifically, a zombie. Even more specifically, it would be Wendell Reed, the main zombie character in my CHARLIE DEAD series.

Charlie is a teenager trying to avoid becoming a zombie, and Wendell, for a variety of reasons, tries to help him. In doing so, Wendell risks being utterly destroyed himself.

Of course, for a zombie, this is as close to “certain death” as one comes. After writing about Wendell for years, I’ve grown quite fond of the big, undead lug. So, would I save him if I had to choose someone to rescue? I suppose — but, fortunately, as an author, I can do whatever I want!

If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

One year, when I was a kid, “The Exorcist” aired on network TV for the first time on Halloween. It was an edited version, but still pretty scary. I remember coming home from trick-or-treating, planting myself on the carpet in front of the tube in our basement game room, and gobbling candy bars alone in the dark. It was like an out-of-body experience.

At one point, a commercial came on — and suddenly I became aware of myself. Bathed in the glow of the TV screen. Scared halfway out of my mind. And grinning like a madman. Looking back, I understand now what a pivotal moment that was.

CamphireCharlieDead&TheSeedsOfZombieChaosHow does modern pop culture influence your work? Do modern cultural references date a piece or add touchstones for the reader?

Well, I grew up in Pittsburgh, which really was ground zero for the explosion of zombie movies that’s given the world its modern vision of the living dead. I’ve never shaken the infection — or the hunger to spread the zombie virus.

Of course, as an adult now, I experience pop culture a little differently. After enjoying the “Harry Potter” and “Hunger Games” books along with my kids, I started wondering why young-adult zombie literature didn’t offer a series of comparable quality. So I wrote my own.

People today are fascinated with zombies — and for good reason. The planet is swarming with mortal dangers, existential threats and systemic efforts to take over our lives. We’re all afraid of being gobbled up, turned into zombies. Mindless zombies and the walking dead invite us to tackle the hard questions of free will and what it means to be really alive. The real stumper isn’t “How do we kill zombies?” but “How to do we live with the reality of zombies among us?”

And I want my post-apocalyptic world to be familiar, but not too much. Without dropping a lot of references to things like specific products or movies, I try to paint a picture of people as they live today, struggling and striving, often unsuccessfully, to make their world normal again. Turns out, that’s hard to do when there are zombies everywhere.

Reality in my fiction: how important is it? Lengthy travel, cussing, and bathroom breaks happen in real life. How do you address these mundane occurrences in your writings?

How important is reality in my fiction? I’m not sure that reality is particularly important in my reality. I write about zombies, after all.

That said, I don’t feel like art is obligated to be absolutely faithful to all the mundane facets of real life. Sure, fiction is most entertaining when it feels somehow plausible — when characters’ motivations make sense, when the words coming out of their mouths sound like things they’d say, and when events unfold within the rules of a reality established by the story. So reality is important. But it’s the reality I create that matters. And that reality isn’t filled with paragraphs punctuated by trips to the toilet.

Over the years, are the changes in society reflected in today’s villains and heroes?

Our heroes have stayed mostly the same over time. They’ve always had to overcome obstacles, externally and internally. That’s what makes them heroes. And they’re important, sure. But if I’m being honest, I am much more interested in our villains — specifically, our monsters — and what they say about us.

Creepy as it might sound, I take inspiration from the simmering panic I hear in the voices of ordinary people. When you ask people about their fears, what do they talk about? Faceless enemies, terror groups, existential threats. A growing sense of freedom being taken away. Outsize control exerted by governmental, religious and economic forces. And the desperation to somehow escape becoming just another one of society’s dead-eyed drones.

That’s why we’re drawn to tales of zombies. Most zombie stories focus on the fight-or-flight response to attack by the unliving. But in real life, there’s no escape. You certainly can’t avoid death. Even before that, there are forms of “zombification” that find you, no matter what. You can never completely get away from the drudgery of work, the limits placed on your free choice by society, and — maybe most important — the tendency of people to treat each other as lesser-than, inhuman monsters.

We’re all running from the zombie plague, and we’re trying to figure out what it means to really be alive. So I wanted to write about the ways we learn to live, hopefully, in a reality that’s always is and always will be overrun with zombies.

CamphireCharlieDead&TheSpoilesOfZombieCombatIf you were sent on a survival quest which other 4 zombie fiction authors would you take with you?

Richard Matheson, Max Brooks, Robert Kirkman and Seth Grahme-Smith. Why? Realistically speaking, I don’t think I’m going to last long on any “survival quest.” I’m going to be one of the first to go down. So, I figure, I might as well enjoy some scintillating conversation with innovative intellects before I become somebody’s lunch.

What book should be made into a game (card, PC, board, etc.) and why? Is there a specific character who you would want to play in this game?

This question really is not fair, because I feel like I’m being set up to self-promote. But I’m taking the bait. Naturally I feel like my CHARLIE DEAD books would make the most amazing video game ever. Personally, I’d want to be Charlie. But others might choose to be characters like the undead Emma Fletcher, buddy Sam Curtis, or the zombified secret agent Wendell Reed.

Then the good guys face off against the bad guys. And not just rabid zombies. The villains are legion — including the loony zealots of Orthodox Life Church, the ruthless opportunists of Nolegys Corporation, and the jackbooted thugs of the Community Health Enforcement Watch, or CHEW. The “Zombie Combat” tournaments in the video game could be just as wild as those featured in the books, where normals and zombies go head to head. And heads do roll

What do you do when you are not writing?

When I’m not writing zombie fiction, I’m a husband, a father, a freelance journalist, and a communications guru who runs a public awareness campaign reaching over 50 million people a year with information and resources about science education. Also I watch zombie movies. Lots and lots of zombie movies.

What is the first book you remember reading on your own?

Aside from slender, Dr. Seuss-style children’s books, the first real book I remember reading by myself was “A Wrinkle in Time.” I was in elementary school, and I can remember being blown away by the bizarre combination of supernatural fantasy and science-fiction, the careening adventure and high drama, the wrenching emotion, and — maybe most — the characters I wanted to know better. What a storyteller L’Engle was! What a story!

You have to run a zombie obstacle course. Who do you invite along (living or dead, real or fictional)? Will there be a tasty libation involved?

Merlot. I think a simple red would pair best with my friend Gavin, who is catastrophically clumsy. Gavin would make excellent zombie bait, I think. Outrunning him would provide me with my escape. And since red wine goes with red meat, I might be tempted to share some with the zombies feasting on Gavin. Then again, I just might save the bottle for myself. I do like to have a drink while I’m enjoying a show. Buh-bye, Gavin!

CamphireCharlieDead&SoCalledZombie ApocalpseBook Blurb for Charlie Dead & the So-Called Zombie Apocalypse:

Zombies, zombies, zombies! How does it feel to be one of the walking dead? Hunted? Not free? Never allowed to live the life you choose? Charlie Dunlap, newly infected with the zombie virus, fears he is about to find out.

Charlie doesn’t want to become one of the mindless corpses at Norwood High School, where his few friends include the zombified Emma Fletcher. In this post-apocalyptic Armageddon, undead hordes are part of the horror of daily life.

Just as Charlie is losing hope, though, a mysterious government agent appears at the door, raising questions about the boy’s late mother. How was the vanished scientist connected to the origin of the virus? Why was this terrible plague unleashed on the world? And who is now targeting zombies for persecution?

Charlie, recruited to aid in the investigation, faces each new adventure with a dose of gallows humor and fading hope for a cure. But Charlie knows there’s more than his own fate on the line. At stake is the power to control the whole human race.

Will Charlie survive? Who can he trust? In a world at war with the living dead, it’s not always easy to tell who the real monsters are.

From author Geoff Camphire comes this high-flying, pulse-pounding zombie novel series, a new kind of dystopian science fiction. “CHARLIE DEAD and the So-Called Zombie Apocalypse” is Book 1 of the acclaimed CHARLIE DEAD series.

Places to Find Geoff Camphire & his Charlie Dead series

The CHARLIE DEAD books are available as paperbacks and ebooks on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/peqqlls. Go online to check out the first installment — “CHARLIE DEAD & the So-Called Zombie Apocalypse” — and click “Look Inside” in the upper left corner to read the first chapter. You can “like” the Charlie Dead Book Series on Facebook and follow @Geoff_Camphire on Twitter for news and updates. And learn about CHARLIE DEAD and more by author Geoff Camphire at www.geoffcamphire.com. Also, catch him on GoodReads.

GIVEAWAY!!!

Geoff Camphire is pleased to offer one free full set of CHARLIE DEAD paperbacks — Books 1, 2 & 3 — to the first U.S. resident who, after this Q&A appears online, emails him at geoffcamphire@yahoo.com with his or her favorite quotation from the first installment, “CHARLIE DEAD & the So-Called Zombie Apocalypse.” Join the zombie feast! Bon appetit! You can check out the first couple of chapters of Book 1 over on Amazon using their ‘Look Inside’ feature. Hint: This gives you plenty of awesome quotes from the book!

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

Grahame-SmithAbrahamLincolnVampireHunterWhere I Got It: PaperbackSwap.com

Narrator: Scott Holst

Publisher: Hachette Audio (2010)

Length: 10 hours 18 minutes

Author’s Page

Set in the 1800s, this book follows Abraham Lincoln’s life. Initially, the story  is told from the viewpoint of the author who stumbled upon the hidden, secret diaries of Lincoln. The story then shits to a historical retelling of Lincoln’s life, with snippets of Lincoln’s diaries added in here and there. There’s vampires, and hunting, and politics.

First, I adored Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride & Prejudice & Zombies so I was really looking forward to this book. However, this book is told in a very different manner and I have to say I didn’t like it near so well as my first Grahame-Smith book. First, the point of view shifts back and forth often, and not just the POV, but also the tone. We start off with the amiable author finding the secret hidden diaries. He uses these as a basis for writing a new history on Lincoln. The reader is then tossed into this ‘history’ with no more amiable author POV. The history is written rather dryly being mostly dates, places, events, people. But then little snippets of Lincoln’s hidden diaries are tossed in nearly every other page. These snippets are much more personable and have a very different pacing and flavor from the ‘history’. I often found myself frustrated that the author, Grahame-Smith, didn’t just pick one style or the other to the story telling for the majority of the book. The historical parts would put me to sleep and the diary parts would jolt me awake, get me hooked and then leave me sad and weeping for more.

Perhaps I should get a paper edition and cut out all the diary entries, paste them together, and read the book that way. That would probably be more satisfying.

The other thing that made me sad was that there were almost no women and what few women there were, had little to do with the story. Grahame-Smith set such a high bar with Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, which has several lead female characters, that I really expected something of the same here. Alas, the lack of female vampire slayers had me weeping again.

Lastly, the author over-used a dramatic ploy. You know how an author will launch you into an action sequence with all the characters you have become familiar with, then something horrible happens, and you start to think through all the consequences this has for the plot… and then the character wakes up and realizes it was a bad nightmare. I think this little ploy was used like 4 times in the book. And to make me shed a few more tears, these dream sequences were some of the best written action scenes of  the entire book.

Really, I haven’t cried this much over a book (in frustration) in forever.

There were a few things I liked about the book. Since it is written like a history, we do learn quite a bit about Lincoln’s life. He did have some issues with family members that would have been scandalous today. I really liked the dark, deeply serious tone of the diary entries.

Over all, it was a real let down.

Narration:  Scott Holst did a good job. He had to sound like a dried up history professor for the dry historical bits and then completely switch gears and become Lincoln for the diary entries. Since many of those entries also recorded conversations had with other folks, Holst had to come up with several male character voices with regional accents. He performed well!

What I Liked:  The cover art; the underlying premise of the story; the diary entries; learned a bit about Lincoln’s life.

What I Disliked:  The book switched style and POV almost every other page, sometimes even more frequently; few female characters and they have almost nothing to do with the plot; the dramatic ploy of dream written as plotline until the character suddenly awakens was over used.

What Others Think:

io9

Prairie Fire

Tosche Station

Literary Fictions

Nerdist

Reading Lark

Best of 2014

ElwesLaydenAsYouWishA big thank you to all the publishers, authors, and narrators who generously provided review copies, especially the audiobooks. Thanks to all my book blogger friends, real life friends, and family who recommended books, or simply let me babble on about books even when you really didn’t care. According to Goodreads (which I don’t use religiously but perhaps I should just for the stats) says I read 116 books this year, the majority of which were audiobooks. Here is my list of favorites from 2014. Enjoy!

SummersLightningWolvesAs You Wish by Cary Elwes – Nonfiction: True adventures of the filming of the movie The Princess Bride. Lots of good stuff to make you laugh.

AlvaVosper'sRevengeLightning Wolves by David Lee Summers – Steampunk: Wild west gets even wilder in this multi-cultural steampunk adventure.

BernheimerPenniesForferrymanVosper’s Revenge by Kristian Alva – Epic Fantasy: Book 3 of the series and a most excellent wrap up to the first trilogy in this world. Intense and insightful!

Pennies for the Ferryman by Jim BernheimerUrban fantasy: Mike Ross is a reluctant detective with a bad eye that lets him communicate with the ghost world. A great nitty-gritty ride. 

Ancient Stout being used as a bookstand.

CampbellDragonsOfDorcastleThe Art of Eating through the Zombie Apocalypse by Lauren Wilson & Kristian Bauthus – Nonfiction: Cookbook, survival book, and snarky humor on the end of civilization as we know it.

ShrumDyingForALivingDragons of Dorcastle by Jack Campbell – Epic Fantasy: Book 1 in a new series with some steampunk thrown in with unreal magic. Excellent world building in this book!

Tofu actually believes he is hiding behind this book.

Dying for a Living by Kory M. Shrum – Urban Fantasy: Jesse is a Necronites who can take the place of another in death….and come back to life. I almost passed this book up and it turned out to be one of my faves of the year. I thank the book gnomes for preventing me from being a total dunce!

PriestMaplecroftWords of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson – Epic Fantasy: Book 2 in the Stormlight Archives and some of the best fiction I have ever read, hands-down.

7912701Maplecroft by Cherie Priest – Gothic Horror: Take Lizzie Borden and Cthulu monsters and you have something cunningly magnificent. Dare I say this is what Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, and HP Lovecraft have been waiting for?

WillisAllClearBoneshaker by Cherie Priest – Steampunk: The Civil War hasn’t ended and the Pacific Northwest remains in shambles due to an industrial accident. Complex world surrounds a complex relationship between a mother and son.

SeboldShanghaiSparrowAll Clear by Connie Willis – Time Travel: Book 2 in the All Clear series is an excellent wrap up to Blackout (WWII historical fiction).

MartinDeadlyCuriositiesShanghai Sparrow by Gaie Sebold – Steampunk: Awesome multi-cultural fiction with a stubborn lass at the center of it.

BowmanArrowThroughAxesDeadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin – Urban Fantasy: Certain objects attract ghosts or hold onto malevolent memories. Time to call in the right detectives to neutralize the object!

AlexanderAmbassadorArrow through the Axes by Patrick Bowman – Classic Retelling: Book 3 concludes Bowman’s excellent retelling of the ancient The Odyssey.

JangDearLeaderAmbassador by William Alexander – Science Fiction: Awesome adventure that asks so much from one young lad.

Cats: Picky readers.

Dear Leader by Jang Jin-sung – Nonfiction: A look inside North Korea from a native poet and spy. Absolutely fascinating.

FremantleSistersOfTreasonThe Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman – Historical Fiction: Beautiful story of two young people in NY during one of the worst fires in history.

LornDastardlyBastardSisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle – Historical Fiction: The sisters of Lady Jane Grey must navigate murky political waters for decades, and they do not always succeed.

KozeniewskiBraineaterJonesDastardly Bastard by Edward Lorn – Horror: A fast-paced, intense ride right up to the end.

Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski – Urban Fantasy: Think noir detective meets zombies. Yeah. Pretty fucking awesome indeed.

One of the few times Smudge has willingly held still for her photo.

JordanNewSpringThe Kingdom of the Gods by N. K. Jemisin – Epic Fantasy: Book 3 of The Inheritance Trilogy offers a beautiful ending to this complex and rich series.

AtwoodMaddAddamNew Spring by Robert Jordan – Epic Fantasy: I believe this to be Jordan’s finest work in The Wheel of Time series.

Grahame-SmithAustenPrideAndPrejudiceAndZombiesThe MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood – Dystopian: I read all three of these books this year and each blew me away in different ways. Atwood had me laughing one minute and wanting to punch something the next.

Streak sleeping in his basket.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith & Jane Austen – Classic Retelling: Yep, hoity-toity aristocracy of England has been infested with zombies. And now it is fashionable to send your kids off to Asia to become martial arts experts. A most excellent and entertaining book!

The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint – Paranormal Fantasy: A captivating tale of a mechanic who has to figure out a way to free herself and others from a mundane afterlife.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith (& Jane Austen)

Grahame-SmithAustenPrideAndPrejudiceAndZombiesWhere I Got It: Own it.

Narrator: Katherine Kellgren

Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2009)

Length: 11 hours 5 minutes

Series: Book 1 Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

Author’s Page

Let me start with being upfront about some things: 1) I’ve never been a Jane Austen fan. I find her works to be silly and inconsequential, full of upper society gossip where the women have very narrow and superficial concerns. 2) I have never been big on zombies. As a biologist, it is hard for me to suspend my disbelief when it comes to reanimating dead flesh (though if an author does it with magic, it is easier for me to ignore my skepticism). But over the past year, I have read and watched some zombie fiction so I have warmed up to the ‘ambivalent’ level (which is quite a bit higher than the cold-shouldered Hell no! level at which zombies previously resided in my world).

OK, now that I have that off my chest, let me say that Jane Austen’s work, zombies, and the warrior Bennet sisters all work beautifully together to create one very entertaining listen! The entire framework from the original Pride and Prejudice is there. There just happens to be zombies, Asian martial arts, and ball jokes thrown in. A few generations before the book opens, the zombies started appearing in England. More tend to pop up during the wet season, as the muddy earth makes it easier for them to come to light. Anyway, it is now very much in vogue for rich families to have their children (male or female) trained in Japan or China in a variety of martial arts. Every family who is worth the notice has at least three dojos in which to practice daily. So, all 5 Bennet sisters were trained in Japan and the family has since returned to England. All 5 are highly encouraged to find suitable marriages sooner rather than later. But with the Unmentionables (zombies) wandering the countryside, attacking carriages and livestock willy nilly, the Bennets are often distracted from their marital goals.

I really enjoyed that the author didn’t try to explain the source of the zombies, or even the mechanism that kept them going. For all practical purpose, with none of the Bennets being doctors or even scientists, it was not really relevant to their day to day lives. I quite enjoyed the numerous interactions with the zombies and the variety of ways they were dispatched. Some of the sisters prefer katanas to long bows to throwing daggers, etc. It was so very amusing to see these ladies dispatching the Undead and yet striving to remain ladylike.

The story line still has Mr. Darcy, who I take is suppose to be the irritable hearth throb of the original book. He too is a warrior and often appreciates the abilities of the Bennets, especially of Elizabeth. He has the opportunity to show off his zombie beheading prowess more than once. Also, he is usually present for the ball jokes. Yep, jokes concerning the ‘most English parts’ of the male physique. And these jokes are carried out in such a fashion to compliment Jane Austen’s work, often bringing me to a fit of giggles. I can only imagine that such jokes truly did take place during that time period.

This particular edition had a forward by the author in which he explains how the idea for the story came to him (via a friend). The author goes on to chat about the first reactions to the first edition of the book (people wanted more zombies!) so this is the new, improved edition with those extra zombies. It was a most excellent read and is probably the only way that anyone will ever get me to read Jane Austen as an adult. Hats off to the author!

Narration:  Katherine Kellgren was an excellent pick for the narration on this book. She was a great voice for the Bennet sisters (each one distinct) and carried out the dry humor perfectly. She played the straight man to all of the jokes, letting them sneak up and sit there in front of the listener. It was great. She also had several male voices (again, all distinct) and some zombie voices. For one character, she had to alter the character’s voice as the story moved forward because the character was slowly being zombiefied. Not an easy task and she did it beautifully (or putrifyingly).

What I Liked:  The cover; the whole idea is awesome; finally got me to read Austen as an adult (not required by school, etc.); the Bennet sisters are warriors!; Mr. Darcy and his jokes; the narration.

What I Disliked:  No complaints here – excellent book!

What Others Think:

Open Letters Monthly

Fantasy

Lit Lovers

Transformative Works & Cultures

Austen Blog