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AUTHOR SEARCH lists all authors reviewed on this Blog. CREATURE SEARCH groups all of the titles/series by their creature types. The RATINGS page explains the violence, sensuality, and humor (V-S-H) ratings codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their Ratings. The PLOT TYPES page explains the SMR-UF-CH-HIS codes found at the beginning of each Blog review and groups all titles/series by their plot types. On this Blog, when you see a title, an author's name, or a word or phrase in pink type, this is a link. Just click on the pink to go to more information about that topic.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014



I have just updated a previous post for Deborah Blake with a review of Wickedly Wonderful, the second novel in her BABA YAGA SERIES

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Monday, December 29, 2014



I have just updated a previous post for Suzanne McLeod with a review of The Shifting Price of Prey, the fourth novel in her SPELLCRACKERS SERIES

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Saturday, December 27, 2014



I have just updated a previous post for Gena Showalter with a review of The Darkest Touch (Torin's story), the eleventh novel in her LORDS OF THE UNDERWORLD SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Thursday, December 25, 2014



I have just updated a previous post for Meljean Brook with a review of The Kraken King, the fourth novel in her IRON SEAS SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014



 I have just updated a previous post for Sandra Hill with reviews of the latest two books in her DEADLY ANGELS SERIES:

     "Christmas in Transylvania" (novella 4.5)
     Vampire in Paradise (novel 5)

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated reviews.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014



I have just updated a previous post for Cecy Robson with a review of A Cursed Bloodline, the fourth novel in her WEIRD GIRLS SERIES.  

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Monday, December 22, 2014



I have just updated a previous post for Caris Roane with a review of Unchained, the third and FINAL novel in her MEN IN CHAINS SERIES

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Friday, December 19, 2014



I have just updated a previous post for Paige Tyler's  X-OPS SERIES with reviews of novel #2 and e-novella #2.5:
     Her Lone Wolf, novel 2
     "Her Secret Agent," novella 2.5      

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

As of today's date, "Her Secret Agent" is free on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo

Wednesday, December 17, 2014



I have just updated a previous post for M. L. Brennan with a review of Tainted Blood, the third novel in her GENERATION V-AMERICAN VAMPIRE SERIES.

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Monday, December 15, 2014

"Night Shift" Anthology: Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, Lisa Shearin, Milla Vane

Title:  Night Shift Anthology
     Nalini Singh
     Ilona Andrews (pseudonym for Ilona Gordon & Andrew Gordon)
     Lisa Shearin
     Milla Vane (pseudonym for Meljean Brook)
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)     
Publisher:  Berkley (11/2014)      

     The back-cover blurb describes this book as follows: "Four masters of urban fantasy and paranormal romance plunge readers into the dangerous, captivating world unearthed beyond the dark…" This statement is true to a certain point. Yes, all of the novellas were written by master paranormal fiction authors, but no, not all of the stories are urban fantasiesonly the first three. The fourth is an erotic medieval fantasy story, the first in Meljean Brooks's new BARBARIANS series.   

     This anthology has apparently been cobbled together by Berkley to introduce/promote BARBARIANS, but, unfortunately, that series is completely unlike the other three that are represented in this volume: different in genre, different in sensuality level, different in tone, and different in quality. "The Beast of Blackmoor," a dark and violent medieval fantasy, is a misfit in this book, which is three-quarters romantic, urban fantasy. 

         Nalini Singh: "Secrets at Midnight" (a PSY-CHANGELING novella)          
    Singh delivers a typically smoldering love story featuring the leopard, Bastien Smith (Mercy's brother), as he picks up the elusive scent of the woman who is meant to be his mate. He, of course, tracks her down and immediately turns into an over-protective, possessive alpha male. Predictably, there is problem in their new relationship. Kirby Rosario, Bastien's soon-to-be mate, believes that she is 100% human, but Bastien soon discovers that she is a changeling. When Kirby begins to show definite changeling characteristics, Bastien realizes that he's going to have to help her through her first shift. This novella has no evil villains and no Psy drama, just a bewildered young woman who knows nothing about her genetic heritage and who realizes that everything in her life is about to change forever.

     This is a typical love story for this series but it is missing an action plot to counteract the oh-so-sweet romance. I admit, though, that I enjoyed watching Bastien find his mate—it's about time! Click HERE to read an excerpt from "Secrets at Midnight." Click HERE to read my reviews of Singh's PSY-CHANGELING series. 

         Ilona Andrews: "Magic Steals" (a KATE DANIELS novella)         
     This story features a familiar pair of shape shifters: white tigress Dali Harimau and jaguar Jim Shrapshire, Curran's chief of security and alpha of Clan Cat. Even though Dali has strong magical powers, she has always felt inferior because she isn't beautiful and physically strong like all the other shifter females. Here's how she describes herself: "a skinny vegetarian girl who had to wear glasses with lenses as thick as Coke bottle bottoms, threw up when she smelled blood, and was about as useful in a fight as a fifth leg on a donkey." Dali is in love with Jim but figures that they can never be together because he needs a much more powerful and aggressive mate.

     The conflict begins when a woman asks Dali to find her missing grandmother. Dali has the power to banish evil, so many people come to her with their problems. Dali and Jim investigate the case and figure out who is causing problems for the tenants of a building housing five different businesses, each of which is having dangerous magic-based problems. They follow the clues to solve the case and resolve their personal relationship at the same time. Humor comes from Dali's mother and other relatives, all of whom interfere as much as they can in Dali's life.

     This is another strong addition to a great series, with an interesting romance and a suspenseful mystery. For me, it's the best novella in the book. Click HERE and scroll down a bit to read an excerpt from "Magic Steals." Click HERE to read my reviews of the authors' KATE DANIELS series.

         Lisa Shearin: "Lucky Charms" (SPI FILES prequel novella)         
     This is the prequel to Shearin's SPI FILES series in which Makenna (Mac) Fraser works as a seer for Supernatural Protection and Investigations, the law enforcement agency for New York's supernatural world. SPI has two missions: to keep the world safe for supernaturals and humans and to keep humans in the dark about the existence of supernaturals. 

     Here is Mac's description of her work attire on her first day on the job: "slacks, blouse, blazer, nice pumps,…small silver crucifix and a water pistol filled with holy watersupernatural business casual." Her first assignment is to track down a leprechaun prince and four of his friends as they take on a variety of glamours and enjoy the strip joints and sex clubs of Manhattan. Unfortunately, some evil supernaturals, including a goblin mage, want to capture the leprechauns before the SPI can find them. Mac meets sexy Ian Byrne for the first time when he is assigned as her partner and protector. 

     This has the makings of a solid, entertaining series, and this story gives a taste of Shearin's story-telling strength. My only quibble is that in this story and in the first book of the series, Mac comes across as rather ineffective and weak in comparison to the rest of the SPI team, always needing a man to rescue her. Let's hope that Shearin toughens Mac up as the series moves along. Click HERE to read my reviews of the books in the SPI FILES series

         Milla Vane: "The Beast of Blackmoor" (the first BARBARIANS novella)        
     Apparently, this is the first story in a new series—BARBARIANS—by Meljean Brook, writing here as Milla Vane. The heroine is Mala, a warrior princess who is on a quest for her goddess, Vela. When Mala meets the beast she is supposed to tame, she finds that he is a dark and menacing barbarian warrior named Kavik (aka the Beast of Blackmoor), who has all the sex appeal of a primitive, barely coherent cave man. This erotic and violent story is a throwback to the bodice rippers of days gone by (but without their civility), and it has the highest sensuality rating (5) of all the stories because of its many scenes of down-and-dirty oral sex. (Literally filthy, dirty sex because the pair rarely takes time out to bathe as they travel by horseback for days on end through mud and dust and bloody battles.) The lust scenes in this novella are crude and repulsive—never, ever romantic in any way.

     This is my least favorite of the four stories, partly because medieval fantasy is not one of my favorite genres and partly because the supposedly intelligent and independent heroine constantly puts herself at the sexual mercy of the dour, churlish, cruel antihero. This one just didn't work for me, and I probably won't read or review the series.

     To read an excerpt from "The Beast of Blackmoor," click HERE, then scroll down and click on the second Night Shift cover, and finally scroll down a bit more to click on the "Excerpt" icon. To read a free short story set in the BARBARIANS world, click HERE and scroll down just a bit.

Saturday, December 13, 2014



I have just updated a previous post for Jennifer Estep with a review of Black Widow, the twelfth novel in her ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN SERIES

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Thursday, December 11, 2014



I have just updated a previous post for Laura Resnick with a review of Abracadaver, the seventh novel in her ESTHER DIAMOND SERIES.      

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Author:  Ilona Andrews (pseudonym for Ilona Gordon and Andrew Gordon)
Plot Type:  Alternate History; Urban Fantasy (UF)     
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2-3; Humor—3 
Publisher:  Avon (an imprint of HarperCollins)     
          Burn for Me (11/2014)
     This dynamic writing duo has hit it out of the park once again with a great new series featuring a world in which power lies with mages. Set in Houston, Texas, this alternate world has a slightly different history than our real world. As the first book opens, the U..S. is recovering from massive territorial wars over magic in Central America and South America. Formidable mage Houses hold all the power in cities and countries around the globe, and the relations among the Houses are not always peaceful.

     Book 1 begins with an explanation of the source of magic in this mythology. Back in 1863, a serum was developed that brought out people's magic talents—abilities of all kinds. "Some people gained ability to command animals, some learned to sense water from miles away, and others suddenly realized they could kill their enemies by generating a burst of lightning between their hands." As the serum spread around the world, people soon realized that many magic users were taking advantage of their new power by using it for evil and violent purposes, and the serum was locked away. By that time, though, the serum's effects had reached into people's DNA, and their magical traits were passed down to their children—generation after generation—changing the course of history forever. Click HERE to go to a page on the authors' web site that discusses types of magic in this mythology.

     Currently, mages are segregated into five ranks: Minor, Average, Notable, Significant, and Prime. Mage families are rated by the power of the head of the House and his or her children, particularly the heir. Here, a character explains what life is like for a prime: "When you're a Prime, especially an heir Prime, your life stops being your own once you graduate from college. Certain things are expected. Your specialty is predetermined by your family's needs. It's understood that you will complete your education, work to further the family interests, select a mate whose genetic pedigree is most likely to produce gifted children, marry, and have said children, at least one but no more than three"—one prime and two back-ups. Click HERE to go to a page on the authors' web site that provides in-depth information on the ranks and Houses of mages in this world. 

     For a lesser mage to stand a chance against a Prime, that mage would have to have shockers permanently inserted into his or her arms. Here, a character describes shockers as "completely invisible from the outside, but it lets you shock anyone with magic. Hurts you like hell, but it hurts whoever you grab even more. Seriously nasty gadgets." Shockers work like an amped-up taser, except that instead of pulling power from a battery, shockers pull power from the magic of the person doing the shocking. If the shockers pull too much power, they can kill the person doing the shocking and/or the person being shocked. Early in the book, the series heroine has shockers implanted into her arms as a means of self defense.

     That heroine is Nevada Baylor, a truthseeker mage (the third rarest magic talent) and a licensed private investigator who lives with her extended family in a converted warehouse. No one outside Nevada's family knows about her truthseeker talents because if anyone found out, she would be pulled away from her family and forced to work as an interrogator for either the government or one of the Houses. Nevada is the chief investigator for her family's investigation agency and is assisted by her mother, cousins, and sisters. Her mother is an army veteran—a lethal sharpshooter, and her grandmother—a mech-mage—repairs and restores armored vehicles for various Houses, all of which take their security quite seriously. During Nevada's father's extended terminal illness, the family mortgaged their agency to the powerful Augustine Montgomery, head of House Montgomery and chef executive of Montgomery International Investigations (MII) so the Baylors work hard to build their image, and pull in clients in order to can keep up their monthly payments to Montgomery. 

     The Baylor family lives by three rules: "Rule #1: we stayed bought. Once a client hired us, we were loyal to the client. Rule #2: we didn't break the law…It kept us out of jail and safe from litigation. And rule #3, the most important one of all: at the end of the day we still had to be able to look our reflections in the eye," meaning that they had no regrets and were sure they had done the right thing.

     Click HERE to go to a page on the authors' web site that provides biographies and sketches of the main characters in this series.

     This writing team has produced two other terrific series. Click HERE to read my reviews of their EDGE series. Click HERE to read my reviews of their KATE DANIELS series.

            NOVEL 1:  Burn for Me               
     As the story opens, everyone in Houston is talking about the pair of rogue mages who set off a fiery explosion in a bank vault, killing and injuring several innocent by-standers. The most notorious of the two is Adam Pierce  son of one of the most prominent Houses in Houston. Adam is a supremely powerful pyrokinetic Prime who broke from his family several years ago and has spent his time since then causing fiery trouble of all sorts. "A pyrokinetic was considered Average if he could melt a cubic foot of ice under a minute. In the same amount of time, Adam Pierce could conjure a fire that would melt a cubic foot of stainless steel." The other mage is Gavin Waller, a much younger and weaker telekinetic. The families of both men reach out for help. Gavin's mother seeks aid from her cousin, Connor, who heads up House Rogan, and Adam's grandmother goes to Montgomery.

     Connor (aka Mad Rogan, the Butcher, the Scourge) is an extremely powerful billionaire Prime, an inorganic telekinetic who earned his fierce and deadly reputation during his years in the military during the Mexican and South American wars. Millions of people have viewed his video on the Internet in which he completely destroys a Mexican town in just moments and with seemingly little effort, slicing up huge buildings and destroying them completely, one after another. Connor now lives in relative seclusion and even refers to himself as Mad Rogan. After leaving the service, Rogan put together his own security army equipped with top of the line technology and weaponry along with complete medical services for all staff. His people are loyal to him because he takes care of them and their families. Everything Rogan does, he does for practical reasons, and emotions never get in the way of rational thought. He is a cold-blooded killer, and he has accepted and even embraced that aspect of himself. 

     When Adam's grandmother reaches out to Montgomery, he knows immediately that his security people won't stand a chance against Adam's powers, so he calls in Nevada Baylor and assigns her to track down Adam and return him to his family. Right away, Nevada realizes that Montgomery is forcing her to take this assignment because she is expendable and that there is no way that her puny powers can win against Adam's ferocious fire. Unfortunately, the Baylor family's contract with MII states that they are required to take any assignment MII gives them, so if Nevada refuses the job, MII will call in their loan and dump them out on the streets with only the clothes on their backs.

     So…we have two people going after Adam Pierce: a rich and powerful amoral telekinetic Prime with a murderous history and a righteous truthseeker who is an excellent marksman but doesn't have any magical fighting powers and has never killed anyone. Their relationship gets off to a really bad start when Rogan kidnaps Nevada and tortures her for information about Adam. To the surprise of both of them, Nevada breaks Rogan's mind-torture spell and refuses to divulge any information, even under painful mental and physical duress. Rogan isn't used to people standing up to him and saying "no" to him, and he is definitely intrigued.

     The story line follows the pair as they team up out of necessity and strategize on ways to track down Adam before he does more damage to the city. As they gather information, they begin to realize that Adam's actions are not part of his usual attention-grabbing behavior pattern. Adam is searching for something, and it's up to Nevada and Rogan to figure out what that is and where it is. As events begin to lead toward a violent conclusion, the two become Houston's only chance to survive total destruction. Meanwhile, the pair's personal relationship becomes more and more complicated as lust blossoms between them, lust that is fanned by Rogan and rejected by Nevada (at least she makes a valiant attempt to reject it).

     This is a terrific book that appears to be leading into another fantastic series for this talented pair of writers. Although the story is dark and violent, there are touches of laugh-out-loud humor as eccentric characters do their thing. For example, even during times of danger, Grandma constantly snaps pictures of the super-hero Primes, and Nevada's family members snipe sarcastically at one another. All through the story, Nevada comes up with some very funny mental pictures and wry comments. For example, she describes an overly put together receptionist in great detail, ending with this slam: "She wore a white dress that really wanted to be a sleeve." I love that line!

     The epilogue provides a tease for the second book when Rogan gets a message from someone who was deeply involved in Adam's scheme and who is seeking revenge. I can hardly wait for book 2 to see what happens next. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Burn for Me that includes the prologue and the first two chapters.

Monday, December 8, 2014



I have just updated a previous post for Nora Roberts with a review of Blood Magick, the third and FINAL novel in her COUSINS O'DWYER TRILOGY.     

Click on the pink-link series title above to go directly to the updated review.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Scott Kenemore: "Zombie, Indiana"

Author:  Scott Kenemore
Title:  Zombie, Indiana
Plot Type:  Political Thriller with Zombies   
Ratings:  Violence3; Sensuality1; Humor—2 
Publisher:  Talos Press (2014)     
     In Kenemore's third zombie novel, the setting is the state in which he lived during his adolescent years. Zombie, Indiana is similar to Zombie, Illinois in that it is told primarily from the viewpoints of three main characters who are diverse in societal position, race, and age. In both Zombie, Illinois and Zombie, Ohio, corrupt politicians play major roles in the plots. Like the zombies in Zombie, Illinois, the Indiana zombies eat brains, tearing their victims apart as they try to get to their skulls. Just as in Zombie, Illinois, the bodies that are rising as zombies in Indiana are only those buried in shallow graves or thrown into lakes or rivers, not the graveyard bodies that are encased in coffins and concrete vaults and buried six feet under. Who knew that solid, Mid-Western Indiana would have tens of thousands of shallow-grave burials, the kind preferred by mobsters and serial killers. "How many unsolved murders were there every year? And how many cases where people disappear and the body is never found? All those people who you hope are living in another state or somewhere overseas. What if they're right here, just a few inches underneath the ground? Dumped into shallow ponds and thrown into caves. Buried in an unmarked location with no coffin to prevent a reanimated body from clawing its way back up through the earth."

      In Zombie,  Illinois, Kenemore divided his story into three sets of unnumbered chapters alternating among his three main characters in a strict 1-2-3 pattern, with each character speaking in the first-person voice.  Although there are also three main characters in Zombie, Indiana, Kenemore uses a more traditional construction, weaving his narrative back and forth among the three characters and using a third-person voice. 

     The politicians' scenes in Zombie, Indiana are set in Indianapolis, while the parts that include the other two major characters take place mostly in the countryside, several hours south of the city.

     Although all three of Kenemore's zombie novels are supposedly meant to take place concurrently, that seems impossible because Zombie, Ohio and Zombie,  Illinois are set in the winter while Zombie, Indiana is set in very early autumn—with green leaves and warm winds.

     Click HERE to read my review of Zombie, Ohio. Click HERE to read my review of Zombie, Illinois. I have to say that Zombie, Ohio remains my favorite of the three novels. 

            STORY SUMMARY AND REVIEW             
    The action begins when a group of private school students, including the governor's daughter, are touring some river-laced caves by boat when they are attacked by a horde of hungry, skeletal zombies. To the rescue comes Special Sergeant James Nolan of the Indianapolis Metro Police (IMP), who has been sent to the scene by the governor when the boats are hours overdue in returning to the cave entrance. At this point, the zombie outbreak is just beginning, and Nolan knows nothing about it. He jumps into the last available boat, rowing it into the dark cave tunnel with only the light of his flashlight to help him find his way. What he discovers is a series of overturned boats and huge numbers of floating teen-age body parts. Then he spots a single live person, a schoolgirl named Kesha Washington who has managed to get to the rocky shore and is fending off a zombie. After Nolan rescues Kesha, the two make their way out of the cave on foot, following a bloody trail that tells them that others survived. All Kesha wants is to go home, but Nolan has been assigned to find Madison Burleson, and he always follows orders. As the pair hikes through woodlots and across corn fields, they find butchered bodies and see a number of zombies (but not up close).

     Meanwhile, back at the state capital, Governor Burleson disassembles the emergency satellite phone issued to him by the federal government because he wants absolutely no help from the feds. He will solve this problem himself and then reap the rewards of having been so resourceful. Burleson calls in the Indiana National Guard and as many police officers as he can find and turns the area around the capitol building in his personal Green Zone of safety, allowing none of the citizens of Indiana into his sanctuary. Burleson is a caricature of a Tea-Party conservative, one that would be more at home in a sit-com or a cartoon than in this novel. His self-delusional, self-centered, over-the-top behavior is too outrageous and preposterous to be believed or even to be considered satirical. Here is one of his rants as he explains why he dismantled the satellite phone: "Answering that phone is tantamount to begging for help…I can't allow that to happen. I can't even put myself in a situation where someone can suggest that that could have happened…I want people to know that I didn't ask for help. Indiana didn't ask for help. I want to be able to look at the cameras and say there was no phone call to the Feds begging for troops...I don't want to put myself in a position where I can even be accused of having asked for help from the federal government of the United States of America."

     James Nolan is a Dudley Do-Right stereotype. In fact, I kept picturing him as a square-jawed Mountie. Back in the day, Nolan was a famous basketball player at Ball State, but after he was involved in a drunk-driving accident that badly injured him and killed some of his friends, Burlesonthen mayor of Munciehelped cover up the story and got Nolan a job with the IMP. Now that Burleson is governor, Nolan serves as his personal errand-runner. People all over Indiana know Nolan on sight, so he wears huge sunglasses to hide his identity. He hates to be recognized, but it happens every single place he goes.  

     Kesha is an intelligent, brave scholarship student, and a sophomore who is trying to fit in with her wealthy classmates. (NOTE: Kenemore has apparently modeled the school after Park Tudor, a real private high school in Indianapolis because he has Kesha say, "So what if the school was snooty…and sort of sounded like 'rotted crap' spelled backwards?") Her father is the editor of an African American newspaper in Indianapolis, and her estranged mother is a city council member who has been having an affair with the governor for years. Kesha is wise beyond her years (much too wise), and, along with Nolan, she serves as the calm center of the zombie storm. They separate about a third of the way into the book when Nolan goes off to find Madison, leaving Kesha with the survivors of a traveling carnival.

     The plot branches out into three story lines: Burleson's antics in the Green Zone, Nolan's efforts to find Madison, and Kesha's cross-country adventures with a young man from the carnival. The story goes off the rails when the coincidences begin to pile up, one right after another. For example, when Kesha and her friend run off to escape from some human predators, they run right into Madison and her friends. When Nolan reaches the governor's isolated cabin, who should be there by Kesha's father. When Nolan and Kesha's father stumble across a water-studying biology professor in the middle of the deep woods, he provides valuable information about the zombie uprising, even though he doesn't even know that it is happening. All of these convenient occurrences (and more) are so unnatural and artificial that they definitely weaken the plot.

     Also unbelievable is the speed at which society falls apart. Within hours, clean water is unavailable; cell phones and land phones are inoperable; and all electric power is gone. By the next day, people are flocking to Indianapolis in blind panic, burning down buildings for heat and warmth. It's hard to believe that things get so bad so quickly. The power plant blows up in the first moments of the uprising, supposedly because zombies brushed up against power lines. This seems implausible.

     The ending is dramatic and weird, as we learn Burleson's dark secrets and discover more information about the hold he has over Nolan. The weird part is that we are led to believe that Burleson's actions have caused the zombie uprising, but then we are told that…well, I can't tell you what we're told because it would be a spoiler. Let me just say that I felt betrayed by Kenemore's unreliable narrator. 

     For lovers of zombie gore, you'll have to be satisfied with the cave attack  and the long-distance view of the carnival massacre because those are the worst of the slaughter scenes. For the most part—as in Zombie, Illinois—the zombies are on the fringes of the action, where they are a dangerous presence but are not making many personal appearances.

     For me, this is the weakest of the three books, with stereotypical and unbelievable characters, too many implausibly coincidental situations, and a plot resolution that falls short of a pay-off. In regard to the cause of the zombie outbreak, why lead us down a long road that comes to such a sudden dead end? All of the governor's characteristics—his attitude, his ineptitude, his corruption, his words—come across as false and unbelievable. Unfortunately, the governor is a pivotal character, so if we don't believe in his character, the story just falls apart. When I read the governor's early scenes, I thought that
 Kenemore might be writing a satire, but a satire has to have a level of believability that this novel just doesn't have.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Scott Kenemore: "Zombie, Illinois"

Author:  Scott Kenemore
Title:  Zombie, Illinois
Plot Type:  Political Thriller with Zombies   
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality2; Humor—2 
Publisher:  Skyhorse Publishing (2012)     
     This is Kenemore's second zombie novel, but it's very different from the first oneZombie, Ohio. (Click HERE to read my review of that book.) The "Ohio" novel is told from the point of view of a zombie as he tries to find out who killed him and then joins up with a zombie horde that shambles across the fields and woodlots of rural central Ohio. In contrast, the "Illinois" novel is an urban story set in Chicago and follows three very different live humans as they try to outrun the walking dead and outwit a bunch of crooked aldermen who are trying to take over the city. Both books are set at the very beginning of a zombie plague of unknown origin. 

     I apologize for being so late in reviewing this novel. I'll be posting a review of Kenemore's third novel, Zombie, Indiana, sometime this week.

            STORY SUMMARY AND REVIEW             
     The chapters alternate among three main characters, each of whom speaks in the first-person voice: 

Ben Bennington was born in Iowa but has lived for 20 years in Chicago, where he is now a political reporter for Brain's Chicago Business (a kind of corny, zombie-esque spoof of Crain's well-known business magazines that are published specifically for Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and New York City). Ben knows the ins and outs of Chicago politics and he understands the deep corruption that drives every aspect of Chicago life. Here is Ben's take on Chicago politicians: "Professionally and officially, I am as amused as the next reporter by the rampant corruption that pervades every ward…At press events, I shake hands and mingle with these politiciansthese criminal aldermen (and women) who comprise our city council…For the city to continue to function…we must, all of us, play this game…Secretly though, I am disgusted with these people…Watching Chicago aldermen glad-hand and smile at city events is like watching fashion models who are ugly and weigh 400 pounds but expect to be complimented on their pleasing features and toned physiques…I spend my days longing to see Chicago face some real test or trial that will expose these people for who and what they actually are. I long for a crisis. For a disaster. For an invasion." Hey, Ben! You should be careful what you wish for.

Pastor Leopold Mack, pastor of The Church of Heaven's God in Christ Lord Jesus, is old enough to have had a brief street-thug period and to have fought in Vietnam. Now, he is the pastor of a large Black church in Chicago's South Shore area. "God 'accelerated' my life is how I like to put it. I was 'fast-forwarded' to rock bottom ahead of everybody else. He let me reach my lowest moment after just five years, when I was still salvageable…I remember looking at myself in the long, cracked mirror…and it was like God touched me. Like, he physically touched me…Then God tested me. I suddenly started thinking about how I would never take another pill in my lifenever feel that warm rush that made everything okay…A horrible panic seized me…I stopped right there on Jeffery Boulevard, clutching at my chest with everyone looking at me like I was crazy…I could have gone to a hospital. I could have called for a policemen or an ambulance. But thenlooming above the other buildingsI saw the steeple of The Church of Heaven's God in Christ Lord Jesus…I'll always regret that part of my life…It will always be with me. You don't 'get better.' You don't 'get over it.' You maintain, andwhen you canyou try to help people. That's the only way it ever gets a little less awful." 

     Leo attempts to provide solace for his congregants, but he's fighting an uphill battle against the toxic characteristics of the culture of poverty: unemployment, inferior schools, teen pregnancy, casino gambling, substance abuse, and street violence. In his first chapter, he takes the reader on a tour of the South Side, providing an up-close and personal look at the problems his people face. Also in that early chapter, the pastor reveals that he has a dark, shameful secret, which is hilariously revealed near the end of the story.

Maria Ramirez is the defiant, twenty-something drummer for the all-girl punk rock band, Strawberry Brite Vagina Dentata. She has little use for politics and religion and tends to live in the moment, concentrating all of her energies on her music. During the week, in order to earn a living, the Strawberry Brite girls become The Kitty Kats from Heaven, "Chicago's premier all-girl cover band, available for weddings, private parties, and corporate events." Here is Maria's description of the transition from winter to spring in Chicago: "When it snows in Chicago…Chicagoans start to notice that they can stop looking for a trash can when they have to throw something away. If they drop a cigarette butt or candy wrapper, the snow will cover it. If they fail to clean up after Fido..., no one is the wiser. It's kind of a test to see if we'll keep putting rubbish in its place, even if nobody can tell if we did. And it's a test Chicagoans always fail. Each year when the temperature shoots up to fifty, we step outsidebreathing in that invigorating spring airand we're confronted with our own bad citizenship. The sidewalks and yards are strewn with our trash and animal shit. All the things we tried to conceal are staring the face." 

     The zombie plague begins on a dark and snowy night, and within hours it has spread throughout the city. For the last three days, viral videos of supposed zombies had been circulating across social networking sitescorpses twitching at their own funerals and autopsied cadavers seemingly coming to life. Up until now, though, the zombies hadn't moved around too much, and they hadn't attacked anyone. That's about to change

     The three main characters meet in random ways (e.g., Ben helping Leo change a flat tire, Maria meeting Ben at Trump Tower where her band is playing for a political event). The Internet and TV news shows are full of breaking news about possible zombie sightings, but the general unrest does not shift into full panic mode until the mayor and his wife are attacked and eaten by zombified long-dead mobsters (including Al Capone) on live TV. That event triggers a stampede by the live citizenry as they head for their suburban homes, clogging the highways and getting themselves eaten. As more and more zombies appear, it is soon evident that all of the bodies that the mob threw into Lake Michigan or dumped in various shallow graves are coming to non-sentient, hungry life. On the South Side, Pastor Mack's congregants don't run away; they head for the church, where they put together a plan to rescue the sick and the elderly and bring them to the comparative safety of the church building.

     The three main characters meet, separate, and meet again throughout the book as they figure out that the crooked aldermen are using the zombie invasion as a means to take over the city. Even though coincidence plays a big part in the characters' separations and reunitings, the events don't feel contrived (except, perhaps for the too-quick and too-convenient ending). The three comrades scramble through the dead-infested streets, take shelter in various hideaways, and eventually find themselves hiking through Chicago's abandoned coal tunnels on their way to rescue the new mayor.

     The heart of the book is not the zombie invasion. The themes are the power of community, the inherent weakness of insulated isolation, and the importance of honesty over corruption. The zombie survival lesson you learn from this novel is to be sure that you are a member of a strong, loyal social and/or religious group that will band together and defend one another. As Pastor Mack explains to his congregation, "You have become resourceful. You have become like the heartiest plants that can thrive in the most inhospitable soil. You have learned to create community…in this hostile soil…We know what to do when killers are on the loose. And now we have the skills that everybody else in the city wishes they had. We are a loving, caring, righteous congregation that already knows how to handle its business when assailed on all sides. I don't know about them, but we will survive!" In this novel, it's not the richthe 2%that make it out alive, it's the hardscrabble group at the bottom of the economy who pull together for the common good.

     Although the walking dead are certainly a threat, the live humans are the evil ones in this story. Here, Pastor Mack muses about evil: "Zombies kill and eat people, yes, but so do Bengal tigers and great white sharks. Where's the evil there? I think, to get at real, Biblical-level, brimstone and hellfire evil, you need humans. Living humans, You need them for things like neglect, contempt, hatred, and avarice…The humans are the ones with murder in their souls…Zombies are just the natural disaster. The opening in the rift or evil to come on through."

     Kenemore obviously knows his Chicago politics and appears to be as familiar with that city as he is with rural Ohio, creating an authentic sense of place as the zombies ravage every neighborhood. The three main characters are highly developed, and they provide a unique multidimensional view of their situation: Ben's wry political commentary, Pastor Mack's faith and idealism, and Maria's cynical distrust of almost everyone (except the one man who actually means her harm). 

     If you are a lover of zombie novels, be aware that this book is heavier on bureaucracy and payola than blood and guts. The zombie gore scenes are infrequent andactuallynot all that gory. The walking dead are mostly on the fringes of the story, presenting a serious threat but hardly more dangerous than the human murderers who are on the intrepid trio's trail. In fact, the zombie invasion is really a catalyst that harks back to Ben's words in the very first chapter when he says that he wants Chicago to face a disaster that will expose the corrupt politicians for who and what they really are. Rather than being a zombie apocalypse novel, this is really a story about Chicago in all its venal glory. Kudos to Kenemore for dreaming up a situation in which the city's famously crooked politicos actually grab hold of a zombie invasion and turn it to their own ends. What a conceptand it's written so realistically that it seems like it could (and probably would) actually happen. 

     Here are some links to the true identities and histories of three of Kenemore's fictional characters from the book. There may be more true-to-life characters, but these are the three that I recognized. Just click on the pink links for more information: 

Fictional Character: Burge Wheeler
Real Person: Jon Burge, corrupt Chicago police commander who was imprisoned briefly for torturing suspects and threatening their families in order to obtain false confessions. He was released from prison in October 2014.

Fictional Character: Mystian Morph
Real Person: Roland Burris, appointed with great controversy by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he was elected president. Blagojevich was later imprisoned for setting up a pay-to-play scheme to determine who would get that Senate seat. Click HERE to view a photograph of Burris' TRAIL BLAZER mausoleum, which is described in the novel.

Fictional Character: Marja Mogk
Real Person: Arenda Troutman, the first female alderman to be charged with corruption while in office.