Death and Taxes by Mark David Zaslove: The most rootin’ tootin’ shoot ’em up about accountants you’ve ever seen

Death and TaxesDeath and Taxes

by Mark David Zaslove
Series: Tales of a Badass IRS Agent, #1

ARC, 219 pg.
Aperient Press, 2018

Read: August 13 – 14, 2018
I’m not sure I can go this book justice with a hand-crafted synopsis, I’ll just copy and paste from Zaslove’s site:

           Death and Taxes follows Mark Douglas, an ex-Marine turned IRS agent, who, along with auditing the weird and the profane, also spearheads weekend raids with his locked-and-loaded gang of government-sanctioned revenuers, merrily gathering back taxes in the form of cash, money order, or more often than not, the debtor’s most prized possessions.

Things turn ugly when Mark’s much-loved boss and dear friend Lila is tortured and killed over what she finds in a routine set of 1040 forms. Mark follows a trail dotted with plutonium-enriched cows, a Saudi sheik with jewel-encrusted body parts, a doddering, drug sniffing, gun-swallowing dog named The Cabbage, a self-righteous magician with a flair for safecracking, a billionaire Texan with a fetish for spicy barbecue sauce and even spicier women, and an FBI field agent whose nickname is “Tightass.” All of which lead to more and bloodier murders – and more danger for Mark.

Enlisting his IRS pals – Harry Salt, a 30-year vet with a quantum physical ability to drink more than humanly possible; Wooly Bob, who’s egg-bald on top with shaved eyebrows to match; Miguel, an inexperienced newbie with a company-issued bullhorn and a penchant for getting kicked in the jumblies – Mark hunts down the eunuch hit man Juju Klondike and the deadly Mongolian mob that hired him as only an angry IRS agent can. There will be no refunds for any of them when April 15th comes around. There will only be Death and Taxes.

This is hyper-violent (not that filled with blood and guts, really — there is some), a lot of guns, bombs, more guns. Sometimes played for comedic effect, sometimes it’s the good guys vs. the bad guys. Sometimes, it’s a little of both. It never got to the overkill point for me, probably because this felt more like a cartoon than a “realistic” thriller.* What was overkill for me was the hypersexualization of every woman under the age of sixty. I didn’t need to hear that much about every woman’s physical appearance — there are more gorgeous women with perfect (sometimes surgically enhanced) bodies in this guy’s life than an episode of Miami Vice.

But man, is this funny. There are sections — sometimes a sentence or two, sometimes several paragraphs long — that are the literary equivalent of a shot of espresso, they are so taught with action, cultural references, and humor that you just revel in them. This reminds me a lot of the John Lago Thrillers by Shane Kuhn — I think Kuhn shows more discipline in his plots and characters, but on the whole, these two are cut from the same cloth. The same energy, a similar style, similar sense of humor — and frankly, that stuff is catnip to me. I think the plot got a little convoluted, a little confusing — but it was worth working through.

Am I planning on reading Tales of a Badass IRS Agent, #2? Yeah, I will be keeping an eye out for it. This is a heckuva romp, and will entertain anyone who gives it a shot.

* Really, what thriller is realistic?

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion, which you see above.

—–

3 Stars

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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: Fine’s a good word for this novel about a lonely woman.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

by Gail Honeyman

Paperback,352 pg.
Penguin Books, 2018
Read: July 31, 2018

I steeled myself as best I could, and, with teeth gritted, using only one finger I typed:

C U there E.

I sat back, feeling a bit queasy. Illiterate communication was quicker, that was true, but not by much. I’d saved myself the trouble of typing four whole characters. Still, it was part of my new credo, trying new things. I’d tried it, and I very definitely did not like it. LOL could go and take a running jump. I wasn’t made for illiteracy; it simply didn’t come naturally. Although it’s good to try new things and to keep an open mind, it’s also extremely important to stay true to who you really are. I read that in a magazine at the hairdressers.

I went into this expecting the next Where’d You Go, Bernadette — it’s “quirky,” “wacky” “hilarious” “warm and funny” “warm and uplifting”, Honeyman is the next Fredrik Backman, etc. I did not find it. I’m not sure I laughed at anything — I might have smiled at something sweet, but nothing more amusing than the above quotation. Do I think I’d have liked it more if it had been funny? Probably not. I probably wouldn’t have read it, however, if I hadn’t thought it was. This is not a bad thing, not every book has to be funny. I’m just saying I went in expecting a chuckle, a wry smile, something amusing and didn’t get that.

Instead I got a sad, but ultimately nice story about a poor, lonely, shy and socially awkward woman dealing with her personal (and repressed) demons the best she could — which really wasn’t all that well. I didn’t find her amusing, I pitied her. I felt bad for her. I got annoyed when people made fun of her. And I wanted her to figure her life out so she could be an amusing character.

Eleanor is 30, has been doing the same job as a finance clerk for a graphic design firm since she got out of university — she goes to work, talks to her “mummy” Wednesday evenings, gets a frozen pizza, some wine on Fridays and knocks off two bottles of vodka each weekend (spread throughout Saturday and Sunday so that she’s “neither drunk nor sober”), then repeats the cycle. it’s not much but it’s her life and she’s fine with that.

Her life goes in that way with very little variance for about a decade, until she’s befriended by an IT worker, Raymond, in her company. Through him, and other accidents, she meets people. She also does things like get a smartphone, go online for things non-work related, and sorta cyber-stalks a musician. Shortly before meeting Raymond, she’d attended a concert of some local bands (won tickets in a drawing at work) and became infatuated-at-first-sight with a singer — in the way that a thirteen year-old girl does when encountering NKOTB/’NSync/One Direction/insert your time-appropriate band. Eleanor’s childhood was such that she delayed this stage until now. On the one hand, I thought this was a great instigation for Eleanor’s life to change, but man, I kept cringing every time the story came back to it.

Minor, very minor, spoilers: Her social life is the best it’s ever been, things are picking up at work, but there’s this delayed adolescence thing lurking — all the while she’s having problems with mummy. Things go horribly, horribly, horribly awry — but then there’s a chance for her to put her life together again, and maybe discover what went wrong in her very bad childhood, so that she can have a better adulthood.

The characters are well-drawn, well-executed, and pretty realistic. The situations — all of them — ring true. Honeyman can write really well. I thought the story moved well, and the reveals, the twists, the heart-warming moments (and the tragic ones) were all spot-on. I just didn’t enjoy the book that much, it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great. It, like the title character, was completely fine.

Your mileage may vary — and judging by reviews (professional and otherwise), sales, and attention this book is getting, there’s a great chance you’ll think I’m out to lunch on this. I may be.

—–

3 Stars

Pub Day Post — Boise Longpig Hunting Club by Nick Kolokowski: A Gritty, Violent Visit to Idaho

Boise Longpig Hunting ClubBoise Longpig Hunting Club

by Nick Kolakowski

eARC, 320 pg.
Down & Out Books , 2018
Read: July 28, 2018
Jake Halligan is a bounty hunter — more in the Lori Anderson/JT mold, than a Stephanie Plum-type — in Boise, Idaho and the immediate environs. He’s got a kid, an interesting relationship with his daughter’s mother, and a sister that . . . well, you just have to meet her. But think Bubba Rogowski without the size and clinical diagnosis.

Jake’s a Vet, having served in some of the worst conditions Iraq has to offer. He’s smart, he’s careful — he has people he cares about, so he has to be — and he has a conscience. It doesn’t stop him from doing his job, but it can stop him from enjoying it. Early on in the novel, we find Jake after a rough week at work — and a less-than-friendly exchange with the local police — on the whole, his life is looking pretty good, even if Janine (his ex-wife, fiancé and mother of his child) made him pay a social call on some neighbors. When they get home, Jake finds a dead woman in his gun safe. This plunges Jake into a hunt for a killer — as well as an explanation. He’ll find both, and probably wish he didn’t. It’s a violent, nasty hunt full of crazy characters, drug dealers, Aryan assassins, corrupt police — and people who are even worse than them.

Along for the ride are Janine — I can’t say enough about Janine as a character. From her attitude towards a house without books, to her hidden strength and anxieties — and all points in between. Then there’s Frankie, his sister — she’s cocky, funny, and vicious — she’s the biggest gun dealer in Idaho, not even close to legal, and the law can’t touch her. The law can’t even find her. She’s surrounded by associates/employees who are almost as colorful as she is (some even more so) — and is definitely the person you want at your side (or back) in a firefight.

Which is good — because they’re going to find themselves in a few.

Kolakowski has a great way with his characters — they’re real, they’re human — and they’re larger than life in a way that you’ll absolutely buy, as well as enjoy. When the action starts, it is gripping and exciting — you’ll keep turning pages. When there’s a lull in the action, you can bask in the character moments. I’m not really sure what else can I say beyond that. This is the whole package, you get to spend time with interesting people being interesting, and when they take a break from that, it’s because fists or bullets are flying — or maybe something explodes.

My one gripe — and it’s not much of one, before we get back to me saying nice things. The ending is abrupt. I’m not sure if I can think of a well-known book/movie to compare it to. You’re just reading along, hoping that Jake, Frankie, Janine and the rest survive this mess and then before you really realize what happened, it’s over. You know who survives — and who doesn’t — and the book ends with very little wrap-up (actually the wrap up happens before the ending — that remark will make sense when you read it). Kolakowski had a story to tell and he didn’t drag out the ending, much like his protagonist would approach things, I expect. He got the job done and moved on. I would’ve preferred a little more time after the main events are over — there are things I want to know about the immediate aftermath. There aren’t loose ends left untied, I’d just like to see what they look like after they’re taken care of. You can make a strong case that this is the way to end a book — when things are done.

It’s not often that I can evaluate an author’s use of geography — I know that Robert B. Parker and Dennis Lehane have tweaked Boston, I understand that Butcher goofs re: Chicago’s neighborhoods, etc. but I don’t know that reading the books, I learn that later. It’s rare when I’ve been somewhere a book has been set — a little bit with the Mercy Thompson books (but I’m better at noting pronunciation on the audiobooks that no resident would recognize), I noted that Wesley Chu fumbled a smidge Eastern Oregon in the third Tao book, and that Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping was creative with the facts, etc. But by and large, this book takes place in the area I’ve lived in most of my life, so I feel that I can actually comment. — and Kolakowski nailed it. Not just the details, but he’s got the feel, he’s got the atmosphere, the attitude toward change and the out-of-state money that’s bringing the change. he’s changed business names and whatnot, but I can still recognize them — I love seeing this kind of detail brought to life. I’m trusting that his depiction of local crime is hyperbolic, however.

I’m a little worried that it’s as accurate as the rest, actually . . . but we’ll move on.

There’s a visceral feel to this novel and these characters — people in places most don’t think about showing skills, interests, and circumstances that you don’t normally associate with that area. Just a guy trying to make a decent life for his family and himself, who finds himself in dangerous situations. I couldn’t help but think of Jason Miller’s Slim in Little Egypt series while reading his. Jake’s far more capable than Slim, and is far less likely to end up on the wrong end of a beating. But there’s a very similar ethos in the books, and fans of one should grab the other right away.

I’m not going to belabor the point any more, I think it’s clear that I enjoyed the heck out of this — it’s fast, it’s energetic, it’s fun. Go grab a copy of it.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for my honest opinion, which I greatly appreciate.

—–

4 Stars

Ways to Die in Glasgow by Jay Stringer: Three distinct and entertaining voices take you on a tour of Glasgow’s underbelly

Ways to Die in GlasgowWays to Die in Glasgow

by Jay Stringer
Series: Sam Ireland Mysteries, #1

Kindle Edition, 289
Thomas & Mercer, 2015
Read: July 21 – 22, 2018

Inside the front door of the building, I checked the directory, looking to see which floor the firm was on, only to find that they used all of it. The recession hadn’t reached this far up the street. The reception area was decorated in muted shades of black and tan. Anything that didn’t share that colour scheme was made of glass. A woman who was far too young and far too skinny greeted me. She took my name and waved me into a large waiting area.

She didn’t whisper that she was a child slave or beg for help.

She didn’t ask if I could sneak her a cheeseburger.

So we are just dropped into the action here, no background, no setup, no idea who this guy narrating things is — the very definition of in media res, and, come to think of it — we are also dropped into the very definition of coitus interruptus. In this particular case the interruptus takes the form of a couple of guys trying to kill our narrator. Somehow, Mackie (the narrator) escapes — though injured — and seeks shelter at his Uncle’s place — which turns out to have been recently tossed by persons unknown (the people that came after Mackie?), and his Uncle Rab is nowhere to be found. Mackie gets patched up by his therapist and the two head out to search for Rab.

Once that’s underway, we jump back a couple of hours in time to meet our second narrator, Sam Ireland. Sam’s a newish Private Investigator who made a little splash in the news recently and is working enough to keep going, but not enough to pay rent on the office. So the office is now her apartment. It’s her father’s firm, but he’s in a retirement home and Sam’s trying to keep it alive — with a little help from her brother. Sam’s got an appointment with a potential new client, who insists on very strange meeting times (e.g., 11:23) — it’s the law office described in the quotation above. They’d read about her in the papers and wanted to hire her for some things, but first they want a test run — they’d like her to deliver some legal papers to a local celebrity author. As Sam says “…a Glasgow celebrity. . . is one way of saying dangerous.” He’s writing true crime memoirs now, and there’s a problem with his latest book so they need to serve him with papers — but can’t find him, can Sam? For the price they’re willing to pay, yes, yes she can. The celebrity’s name? Rab Anderson.You begin to see the fun here.

It turns out that our third narrator, DI Lambert, also has a vested interest in finding Rab. But there’s the tiny little thing called a job that is interfering. There’s a suspicious death that he really wants to write off as a suicide, but the guys from the Lab won’t let him. He also has connections to our other narrators. He’s a friend of Sam’s and will occasionally bend a rule or two to help her with some information. He’d also arrested Mackie some years back on a pretty serious charge.

The novel is told bouncing back and forth through each of these narrators (sometimes the same scene is retold from a different perspective) — there’s a little bit of shifting back and forth through time to keep everyone at about the same point, but it’s easy to follow. Each of these narrators has a great and distinctive voice — you really don’t need the chapters to tell you who is “speaking” you get it within a sentence (not that I mind the help). I could easily read an entire novel from one of their perspectives — Lambert’s wouldn’t be as entertaining as either Mackie’s or Sam’s, but it’d still hold up. Bringing these three voices — from radically different backgrounds, education, age, experience, vocation — but all representing Glasgow. Mackie’s a great, great character — he’s the first we get to know in this book, and in many ways, he’s the heart. But Sam’s the star — she’s stubborn, reckless, clever, and resourceful. That doesn’t quite make up for the fact that she’s a small woman with little ability to defend herself — but she frequently has her large brother along to offset that.

One of my favorite parts of John Wick was how we’re dropped into this extensive underground world with relationships, rules, alliances and whatnot — as the film goes on we grow to understand them. Something very similar is at work in this novel — we don’t have a point of entry character, really (Sam’s close), we have nothing really to get us oriented in this reality other than what happens when the characters interact and what we learn from that. This is a rich world full of many colorful, dangerous people. It’s not long before we move beyond the hunt for Rab and dive deep into the murky waters surrounding him, Mackie and Lambert — and hope that at least someone is able to survive before Sam gets drug under as well.

That metaphor may have gotten away from me. But oh well . . .

This is a violent book — make no mistake. It’s a visceral blood bath at times — and its disturbing. But honestly? The hard scene to get through had no blood, no guns, knives or anything. It was a chapter where a father thinks about the trouble his daughter is in and what he can do to help her — it’s a couple of pages long, helps build the tension, it deepens the mystery, and just breaks your heart. Give me a dozen bloody corpses any day over that.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Kate McCall and Sam Ireland, it’s that daughters should not take over their father’s PI business unless they’re ready to learn a lot about their father that they didn’t want to know. It’s possible that’s true for daughters taking over any business of their father’s — I’m not sure, I should probably read more about them, but I don’t recall a lot of novels being written about daughter’s taking over for their father’s CPA firm or pizza parlor or dry cleaning business. There’s a pretty big difference between these two ladies (there are plenty of similarities, now that I think about it, too). Kate is surrounded by oddballs, eccentrics, and actors up for anything who are generally good-natured and willing to help her. Sam is surrounded by people she can’t trust, people she shouldn’t trust, a brother who has to be harassed into helping her out, a maverick cop, and a whole lot of shady characters — all of whom (except the brother and probably the cop) would be just as likely to drop her in a grave as they would be to lend her a helping hand.*

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am definitely coming back for more from Stringer. It’s twisty, it’s violent, it’s got a lot of heart, it’ll put a smile on your face and get you to come back for more. Check out this unique look into Glasgow.

* This isn’t to knock McCall & Co. — I actually rather enjoyed the book, and plan on reading the rest of the series soon. It was just a parallel I thought of when reading this.

—–

4 Stars

Picket Town by Chris von Halle: An Age-Appropriately Creepy SF for the MG reader in your life

Picket TownPicket Town

by Chris von Halle

PDF, 178 pg.
Clean Reads, 2018
Read: July 31, 2018

Amanda is bored. Every day is the same — her life isn’t bad, she actually likes it. But she wants more. She’s not sure exactly what it is that she wants — but it’ll be found outside the city limits of New Pines (she calls it Picket Town). She and her friend Sam spend their days after school playing a computer RPG, eating with their families, playing the game some more and repeating the whole thing the next day.

Then something starts happening — some of the kids in town come down with some sort of bacterial infection that requires them to be hospitalized while a cure is worked on. Amanda starts to wonder if everyone is going to be okay — no matter how often she’s assured that the grown-ups have everything under control. She wants to strike out, she wants to learn something — and on the way home from school, they pass the same sign forbidding them to enter the forest that they walk by every day. But this day, this particular day she decides she’s had enough — and then she convinces Sam to come with her. They climb over the fence and explore the forest. This is the most thrilling thing they’ve ever done. Right up until the point that they find a what appears to be a flying saucer (well, a saucer that’s landed). Pretty much everything they’ve ever known ends right there. What follows is exciting, dramatic, and unexpected (well, at least for the target audience — Middle Grade — adult readers will have a pretty good chance of seeing what’s around the corner, most of the time).

I wasn’t so sure that I was going to enjoy this at the beginning, I’m not sure why, it just didn’t seem like it clicked. But it honestly didn’t take long before it reminded me of the better SF I read in grade school, and I was in it for the long haul. Although, honestly, I’m not sure any of the books I read when I was that age would’ve gone where von Halle took this. That’s a compliment, by the way, it may not look like one.

I’m not crazy about the conclusion, I have to say, as much as I liked almost everything that came before. There’s a good twist to it — and I really liked it. But the ending itself? I don’t know — it relied too much on a big info-dump, and then the reveal for Amanda and Sam could’ve been executed a little better. But I think those are quibbles, and I really don’t imagine that there’s a Fourth Grader out there that’ll say the same thing.

This isn’t a MG novel that transcends the label and that’ll appeal to adults — in other words, not everyone is J.K. Rowling. I’ll give you a moment to digest that revelation. This is a MG novel that knows its audience and that will deliver what it wants. Were I in that audience, I’d be re-reading this a few times. I’m not, so I’ll tell people to give it to someone who’ll appreciate it more.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion, given above.

—–

3 Stars

Pub Day Repost: Nightwolf by Willie Davis: A beautifully written book about some horrible people

NightwolfNightwolf

by Willie Davis
Kindle Edition, 286 pg.
7.13 Books, 2018
Read: July 12 – 16, 2018

The police thought they collared Nightwolf. The newspapers kept cagey about it, saying the cops book a person of interest in a “prolonged vandalism case.” Prolonged vandalism–like the tagger had writers block and agonized for weeks, and then returned to the scene of the crime to erase a comma.

In the first three paragraphs, our narrator, Milo Byers sets the stage and the tone for what is to follow — a killer introductory section that is irreverent (at best, cynical, jaded, and — simultaneously — honestly optimistic.

We are then thrown into a giant mess surrounding the culture of runaways and poor teens in Lexington, KY. Dropouts, petty criminals, not-so-petty criminals with aspirations of greater crimes, drug dealers, addicts, users, the mentally ill, the ignored, the abused, and their friends create an interesting cultural web for Milo and his associates to move in. At this time, I’m not sure Milo actually has any friends (at least not to his knowledge), but he is constantly surrounded by people.

Milo’s not technically a runaway — he goes home to his mother frequently, but his mother’s dealing with dementia and other problems, so Milo’s practically orphaned. He had (has?) an older brother who left home a few years before, and no one’s heard from him since. Theoretically, that’s why Milo spends time with some of the criminal class — they knew his brother, and he’s sure that he’ll get a clue if he just hangs around enough.

Also running around the city is Nightwolf. He’s a graffiti artist who dabbles in vigilantism (and not wholly successfully) — a folk hero of sorts. For reasons I’ll let Milo explain, he’s got a theory that Nightwolf is his brother. Now he just needs to meet him to unmask him, hopefully finding his brother — and everything will make sense for him. Despite the book’s title, Nightwolf is a relatively minor character — but his presence (or lack thereof) hovers over just about everything we see Milo do.

Now, all this time — I don’t like Milo. He’s not got a lot going for him as a character, he’s a weasel, he lies to himself and everyone else in his life constantly (and frequently without reason) — it’s not that he’s a criminal, there’s at least something defining the character then. I just didn’t care about him, or about what happened to him. Honestly, he’s the best of the bunch — among this cast of characters he’s the most sympathetic, the most reliable, and the most tolerable. Frankly, I spent a lot of time wondering just what the point of this book was — I didn’t dislike the book, just everyone in it and just about everything they did.

(Small spoiler) Now, at 60% there’s a pretty big time jump. I was totally unprepared for that — and enjoyed someone saying, “Time moves too fast” two chapters later. I was initially annoyed because in many ways this jump ended things before I was ready for them to be ended. But it didn’t take me too long to figure out that pretty much everything before was setting the stage for Part Two. Yes, you could argue that sixty percent of a novel is too long to spend on the introduction — and typically you’d be right. But Davis makes it work. The characters have matured enough, have enough distance from the acts of the first part, and have seen what’s happened since then to those involved, etc. The last forty percent of the novel worked for me in ways that the first didn’t, but it wouldn’t have been able to without the foundation laid.

Whenever I’d brush up against “Southern” fiction in my lit classes in college — those stories/novels became my favorite in the course, and I’ve often intended on taking a year or so to do some sort of deep dive into that tradition — but I haven’t gotten around to it. I should see if there’s an iTunesU (or equivalent) covering that. Anyway, I’ve gotten distracted here. My point is that I can see a direct line from Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor to Willie Davis — particularly the latter. She’d be disappointed in Davis’ attitude toward religion, I think, but she’d note a kindred spirit, I think. That should give you a spirit of the flavor of the novel — agnostic, 21st century O’Connor-ish.

Better yet? Davis has the talent to pull that off. Even when I didn’t like the characters (and I mean “actively disliked” not “didn’t appreciate yet”) and wasn’t sure I wanted to know more about what was happening to them — I could not stop reading the writing. When I didn’t mind the characters and felt a certain apathy toward the plot, I couldn’t stop reading the writing. When I sorta kinda maybe liked one or two of the characters and was curious where things were going — I could not stop reading Davis’ writing. I think you get what I’m saying here. Davis’ writing is worth the hassle. I’m not going to try to explain it really — I don’t think I could. Just go with me on this. At the 9% mark, my notes read “horribly ugly world — beautiful prose.”

The book is funny (not really because of events, it’s largely in the narration), sad, thoughtful, mournful, provocative, visceral, offensive and strange (in the most positive sense of the word). It’s not one for a quick casual read, but will reward the effort. For most of the book — and maybe even now (I’m unconvinced) — I didn’t care what happened, ultimately, I just wanted to see what Davis would do with ideas and language (not that I wasn’t ultimately pulling for a few things to happen plot-wise). I’m not wholly satisfied with the novel — not that I can fully articulate why (beyond really not liking anyone or what they were doing for most of the book) but I have a nagging suspicion that the problems are within me, not the text. I will be keeping an eye out for Davis in the future, and suggest you do the same — but read Nightwolf first.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion and this post.

—–

4 Stars

Ophelia Immune by Beth Mattson: The feminist Zombie Book you didn’t know you were missing

Ophelia ImmuneOphelia Immune

by Beth Mattson
Kindle Edition, 304 pg.
2018
Read: July 21 – 22, 2018

We come into this world sometime into the Zombie Apocalypse — or at least Outbreak, it’s tough to say. Most of our information is given to us second or third-hand through the narration of a young girl. Actually, it’s probably more like 52nd or 53rd-hand. North America (who knows what the rest of the world is like) is filled with people traveling from camp to camp trying to make it just another day. Some families drive from camp to camp, others have to risk walking.

These camps, by the way, have fences around them — including overhead. Because at night — the Zombies come. And if you aren’t in a camp, you’d better hope you’re at least in a car, because you’ve got nothing else to stop them than whatever weapon you might have.

Ophelia lost an older sister to the infection, and then her parents had a couple more kids (for people who never leave their car, this is quite the interesting proposition) that she has to look after. At some point, her family is able to get pretty far north (Canada somewhere), where at least in the cold winter, the infected can’t move. They have a house, they start to make a life for themselves — and then disaster strikes.

The title of the book is Ophelia Immune and there’s really only one way to find out if she’s immune, so this isn’t really a spoiler — she gets bitten. But she doesn’t become a mindless people-eating machine. She gets the strength, she gets the ability to carry on while wounded (details are in the book), but she keeps her brain, her personality. Sadly, anyone who looks at her won’t see that unless they get to talk to her.She runs from her family, finds her way to a city and tries to survive. Along the way, she encounters people selling young women — girls — to join polygamous families “for their protection.” She finds corrupt Rangers, who are to protect people from the infected. And much worse. She also finds some scientists, who are happy to experiment on her blood — actual infected blood is hard to find, blood of an immune person? Priceless.

I told Mattson that I didn’t like Zombie stories — by and large it’s the truth, too. And I didn’t like most of this book, because it was a really good Zombie story. It had all the elements and was downright creepy and disturbing. At a certain point, the tenor and focus of the book became something more — it was still creepy and disturbing with mindless ex-humans wandering around eating humans, don’t mistake me — but it shifted. I liked a lot of that.

Next to M. R. Carey’s Melanie, Ophelia is the most interesting Zombie I’ve ever encountered (well, maybe Gwen Dylan . . . ). She’s naive, she’s innocent — which is just strange to say — and idealistic. If you give her half a chance, she’ll win you over. It’s hard to judge the other characters — because Ophelia’s perspective is pretty strange, and you only see them from hers. But there are some good people, and some horrible humans in this world. So many horrible ones that you start rooting for the infection, really. But the rest of them, like Ophelia, give you hope.

Mattson’s writing itself is clear, strong and effective. I’d prefer if she buried the ideology under a couple more inches of narrative, plot and character – but that could just be me. I would definitely check out her next offering.

I’m the wrong person to ask really if you should read this book. If you like Zombie stories, yeah, give this one a shot — I doubt you’ve read anything like it. If you don’t? Ehhhh, think about it anyway, you probably haven’t read anything like it before.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion — and I warned her ahead of time that this was an uphill battle.

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3 Stars