Archive | book review RSS feed for this section

Book Review: ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ – Wayne Simmons

21 Jun

 

If you suffered through my long and winding review of Simmons’ other apoc-shocker, Flu, then you’ll surely know that I’ve got nothing but admiration for his work. Although I loved Flu, I think it took out some delayed and uncalled for vengeance on me, halting my reading of Drop Dead Gorgeous with a case of the sniffles. But I wasn’t kept away for long! This book has been on my (unrealistic) reading list for a while now after picking up my copy at P-Con earlier this year. Like with his last offering, it was well worth the wait.

 

 

The plot of Drop Dead Gorgeous is all in the title. One fine and average Sunday morning, all but a small few of the population of Belfast, and possibly further afield, suddenly drop dead. The ‘gorgeous’ part makes more sense a little later. The book opens in a very easy going way, just some people going about their lives. A few pages later comes the crashing down of the world around those who were left standing. We see the world slowly drain of power, life and control. The fact that it’s set in Belfast helps to make it that much more real, despite the fact it’s shelved under ‘Sci-fi’. All those apocalypse and zombie movies and novels set in Anywhere USA seem so far away and very much American. Just one big city, with reference to the rest of the country, brings it a little closer. It can be open for interpretation to any readers’ city, even though the language is distinctly Northern Irish – which is fantastic, might I add. As well as the main characters’ individual stories, I enjoyed the snippets of other survivors. Simmons shows us a few shots of scenarios we may not have thought of; dependant people suddenly alone after the world comes to a stop.

DDG is a little different from your average zombie novel, in that it’s not all about the zombies. I’ve read a review – one in particular that tickled me for many a reason – that called this a major flaw. For me, I would much prefer to spend page after page getting to know and care for characters before the big bang. What’s the point, otherwise? I don’t want a book of limbs being torn off for the sake of gory goodness. That may just be me being a delicate little snowflake or something though… If you think of it more as an apocalyptic story and can patiently wait for your zombies – and they’re unlike most you’ve seen – then you’ll be pleased with this.

There is slicing and dicing a plenty that work the final chapters up into a frenzy but it’s the characters that are the heart of the story – and as a girl raised under the greatness and cruelty of one Joss Whedon, characters are important to me. Simmons knows his characters well and more importantly, they’re real. Throwing a bunch of stereotypes into a post-apocalyptic setting does not a good story make. Pooling together some developed and flawed – some heavily flawed – people and seeing how they react to a world torn asunder does. That’s one of my favourite things about reading Simmons’ books.

Among those left behind are a foul mouthed tattooist, aging radio DJ, two teens, a troubled young man, a former IRA member, an RIR soldier, an elderly acrophobic and the overzealous Preacher Man. There’s also a few others we meet along the way. Although scattered throughout Belfast, there’s a purpose to each group and things tie together to help move the story along. As I said, they are certainly not shining examples of the human race. They all respond in different ways to the crumbling of society and don’t make the best decisions. If they were all Mary Sues and Garry Stus then how exciting would that be to read? People aren’t perfect and everyone is expendable, no matter how attached you may grow.

I found that the human characters were not the only to feature in the story. In a world suddenly devoid of life, Mother Nature takes a step into centre stage. The world around them appears to be a character all on its own. The Rain makes as much a noise as the hedonistic trio in the Europa do, and The Silence is as unnerving as the survivors are unnerved. This gives the book a rich atmosphere. There’s a definite difference between reading this on a busy bus, and later in a silent room.

There’s some awful stuff that happens – which I’m going to be terribly vague about so I don’t ruin it – but it is all ultimately necessary. I’ve read people complaining that it’s something that apoc writers throw in for shock value, and though it is horrific it has its place within the story and needed for character development. There are also some laughs from characters and Simmons’ wonderfully crafted narrative alike. And lest we not forget the refreshingly muted romance from our young lovers, who at one point reminded me of the budding and brutal romance in The Hole (I swear I wasn’t just daydreaming about Desmond Harrington).

On a brighter note, one thing I can always seem to count on Simmons for is a delightful reference or two. In Flu it was Red Sonja and here I do believe I spotted a little Who. The description of one character just screamed David Tennant to me. Please say I am not wrong.

I can’t recommend Drop Dead Gorgeous enough. We see our own fast paced world come skidding to a halt and allowing you to become invested, only to gallop off full speed with all that you thought you knew. The characters grow as close to your heart as they’ll allow and the corpses that litter the streets rival the sheer amount of skeletons that come tumbling from closets. It’s dark, unrestrained, vicious, broken-hearted, dangerously beautiful, and it’s got a foul mouth.

 

You can buy Drop Dead Gorgeous, and his other apoc-shocker Flu, from amazon and Book Depository. You can also follow Wayne or like his fanpage on facebook, or go to the one stop horror shop, his site. And if you really want, check out my interview with Wayne from P-Con over on Geek Girl on the Street here and here (part 1&2).

Book Review: ‘FLU’ – Wayne Simmons

21 Feb

You know that old saying: Give a man a fish he’ll eat for a day, give a borderline mysophobe a copy of Wayne Simmons’ FLU and she won’t be able to take a comfortable bus journey for a week. You’ve heard that one, right? Well, it proved true for this unsuspecting reader!

I had bought my copy from the man himself at Octocon last year but put off reading it out of a mixture of being in the middle of the first book in the Millennium Trilogy and the minor panic that accompanies reading about a mutated flu virus during winter. Well, February rolled around and I was stuck with my reading, only in the middle of the second Millennium novel at that point and getting nowhere! Deadlines were halting my reading and I needed a change. Luckily, or unluckily, I rediscovered the joy of reading on the bus some months ago. It used to make me feel ill reading in a car or bus, which majorly sucked on long journeys, but now I can while away the time while I travel.

This all seemed rather pleasant, flicking through a good book and blocking out the children and conversations around me. And it was until I decided to slip this particular book into my bag. The monotonous drone of a conversation in the background is much easier to ignore than the occasional sniffle, cough or sneeze. It just so happens that those three little guys are star players in this story.

Okay, enough back story ramblings, time to get to the books itself. I loved it.

From the get go we’re on a different playing field – Belfast. The opening line grabs you roughly and drags you through that crowd with those first two characters. The way it’s written, rather cleverly I must say, leaves it open for interpretation. Have you been plopped down into a crowd of the undead before you’ve even read a paragraph? You’re surrounded, your breathing’s heavy and everyone appears to be pissed with you.

What a lovely welcome, eh? Well, don’t expect it to let up from there.

As you’re introduced to the other survivors you gather up more of the story, of what happened to our cheery green isle. This collection of remaining souls is as varied as they come, too; two cops, a punk, a young woman, a  guy in a ski-mask, a churchgoer, an ex-IRA gunrunner and of course the army. A veritable Breakfast Club… Or so the undead think, anyway.

The characters are as real as they come. Heavily flawed, prone to erratic behaviour and some swearing enough to make a sailor blush, but at times charming. Human, essentially. It’s basically how any one of us might act if our world was suddenly void of life and overrun with the sniffling and shuffling of the recently deceased.

There’s points when you hate them or what they’re about to do and wish that your shouting into the book would actually do some good. But there’s also moments where you find yourself smiling over their actions. I found this a lot with Lark, the tattooed punk with enviable footwear. He’s also got a foul mouth and manners that leave a lot to be desired but at the same time you don’t want him to get hurt. I also liked Geri for selfish reasons. Is it so bad to hope a leggy redhead would survive a zombie outbreak? And many brownie points to Simmons for using Red Sonja in a simile, a literary rarity.

I’ve ignored it enough, time to talk mucus. The undead are just plain nasty and they get nastier. As if a lethal dose of the flu wasn’t a bad enough way to go, these guys return to unlife, hacking up vital organs and other unpleasantries as they drag themselves around town. Needless to say I gave myself plenty of time between eating and reading, just in case. Unlike most zombies, their post-life shenanigans aren’t anything to do with genetic experimentation, a satellite that’s crashed to earth or some ancient voodoo. It’s the flu. See, a little too realistic, right? This book was released just in time to play off the fears of the flu pandemic – take your pick of which animal is the source. It’s even dedicated to “the birds, the pigs, the mad cows”. Vampires have lost much of their gravity where horror is concerned, but terror grounded in such truth as this cannot be so easily pushed aside. You’re left wondering how things would play out if this actually happened. Of course, it didn’t help that a show was on television recently telling us how to act if there is a global flu outbreak… I could have done without that!

The setting definitely added to the overall anxiety and scare-factor of the story. Most zombie apocalypses seem to be focused on the heartland of America and not Northern Ireland. I’m not overly familiar with the geography and landmarks of Belfast, but Simmons so ably paints a map for you as you read that you know just where you are. The housing estates and apartment blocks are a welcome break from the usual safe houses occupied by survivors as well as creating a rather dreary atmosphere. For any readers in Ireland or England, this really brings the terror home.

It’s not only the change of scenery that adds something new to the story; it’s the history and politics that go with that scenery. The opening scene could have just as easily been on the news during the height of The Troubles. The tension between the cops and some of the other characters is well founded, as is the concern regarding the IRA and the authority of the Army.

I love to be scared or made uncomfortable by a book or film – and instantly regret it, especially later on when I’m alone in the dark – but this book hits you in a whole different way. A ghost story can be batted away with disbelief. A monstrous tale laughed off with recollections of bad make up in old movies. But something so deeply set in reality, that’s a discomfort you have to fight to shake off. I really liked that the story didn’t revolve around a group of survivors setting out for some uninfected haven, which is so often the case. It was just them. Don’t take that to mean it was a snooze-fest – it was anything but. It was real, as much as I’d like to say it wasn’t. Since we’re dropped down into these different groupings of people, we’re as much in the know as they are. There’s no real explanation given for the source of the virus or how the  final days of humanity played out. The reader has to trust in the characters and hope for the best. But the news of a coming sequel, Fever, leaves room to delve deeper into this post-apocalyptic world.

The ending was a real treat. For me it was a torturous treat though, having finished all but the final chapter before reaching college. Two hours later, I got to finish it. It was well worth the wait, and I’m talking about since October.

It may be short, but it’s a non-stop thrill ride stalling only to lull you into a false sense of uninfected security. Well written and action-packed, cruel and sentimental, FLU is a must have for all lovers of horror, zombies or those in search of something a little scary and sweet.

You can buy FLU, and his other apoc-shocker Drop Dead Gorgeous, from amazon and Book Depository. You can also follow Wayne or like his fanpage on facebook.

‘Touch Me, I’m Sick’ – Tom Reynolds

17 Sep

Over the years music has taught us much about the world of romance. Love is strange. It’s all around but you can’t buy it. It may even tear us apart. People may just call to say they love you. It’s all you need and it’s a many splendored thing. There’s special categories of it – baby, young, secret, endless, puppy. I’ve even encountered love hangovers and and rollercoasters. However, the further you delve into these songs of the heart you find that love can be plain creepy.

 There may be one or two songs you’ve heard and thought, “wait a second, that ain’t right..”. Well, there’s a lot more where that came from and Tom Reynolds takes a look at 52 of the weirdest in his 2007 release, ‘Touch Me, I’m Sick’.

The book is divided into chapters, each one focusing on specialised areas of disturbing love. Among these are Hopelessly Devoted To You, an homage to those obsessive stalker hits, I’m Not Bitter, I Just Wish You’d Die, You Miserable Pig, dedicated to angry female singer-songwriters, and All In The Family, yes, folks, today’s topic is incest. Each song description is broken down into an introduction and some general information about the musician, song, how he came across it or why he chose it. Reynolds then moves on to detail the song lyrically, musically and contextually, before going on to explain why it’s deemed creepy. This is great for those songs you may not have heard or know much about. A song can sound perfectly harmless until you learn that the band’s drummer would later go a little crazy and kill his mother with an axe. Or even just reading someone else’s interpretation of the words. You just can’t listen to that tune the same way. Since it is such an odd genre of song and it features a large countdown of them, there is going to be a few you don’t know. I found it quite useful to have Youtube open while reading so I could listen and check out the videos.

Reynolds has a wicked sense of humour and a great way with words. I laughed so many times while reading the book – holding this book and smiling gets you an odd look or two if they can see the cover, let me tell you. He’s brutally honest when he doesn’t like something and ridicules his fair share of musicians and songs. In fairness, some of the tracks and stories they tell are unforgivably awful. On the other hand, I got hooked on some great songs thanks to his careful choices, like There’s A Light That Never Goes Out by The Smiths (but his description was funny and sarcastic as hell) and everyone’s favourite German industrial metallers, Rammstein, with Marry Me (Heirate Mich).

When he explores a song you’re given a totally new outlook on it. For instance, I will not be able to listen to Fergalicious by Fergie, or Millie’s My Boy Lollipop again for a while. Sometimes we see the innuendo in a song but choose to ignore it. Reynolds, however, makes well sure you notice it. He also has had a long love affair with music and is more than capable of explaining the all the technical stuff without boring those less informed.

I know of two editions – I have the one pictured – but I’m not sure if the other is illustrated. They are done by the same artist as the cover above, Stacey Earley, and serve as introductions to what each section has in store for you. As I said before, reading this while around other people will garner you a few concerned glances, and that’s just from the cover’s Say Anything inspired drawing. Inside there are beautifully twisted pieces with blow-up dolls, butterflies trapped in jars, bunny threats and those scary guitar-wielding songstresses.

‘Touch Me, I’m Sick’ is an easy read, I say that without taking away from the quality of the book. Reynolds writes in a way that’s easy to follow without ever being too simple. He’s cheekily informal, autobiographical, a commentator on society and informative all at the same time. If you do read it and want more there’s always his previous offering, ‘I Hate Myself and Want to Die: The 52 Most Depressing Songs You’ve Ever Heard’. I’m yet to get my hands on a copy but if this is anything to go by, it won’t disappoint.

Now, go and think about what that terribly romantic song you were just listening to really means.

_____

5 unwanted love notes out of 5.

%d bloggers like this: