World War Z

World War Z by Max Brooks

Zombie mythos is at an all-time high, as evidenced by the popular The Walking Dead graphic novels and television show, Zombieland and just about every other incarnation imaginable. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Max Brooks’ popular first-person, biographical account of the Zombie War has become a classic, must-read zombie novel.

The reprint cover boasts “soon to be a major motion picture” and, hopefully, the movie will stay true to the book (although that is so rarely the case).

The premise of World War Z is this: The 10-year nightmare that soon became known as the Zombie War nearly eradicated humanity. Max Brooks, a federal employee charged with compiling a report that detailed the events of the war, soon discovers the United Nations Postwar Commission failed to truly capture the horrors, loss and bravery of the war and those who survived.

Brooks, armed with a notebook and recorder, travels across the United States and throughout the world to capture first-person accounts of those who fought in the war. His subjects range from military brass to political figures to moms and dads who did their best to save their families from the mobs of the undead that took over the world of the living.

Fresh on the heels of a tenuous victory over the zombie army, Brooks recounts harrowing tales of combat, unspeakable loss and bravery from the unlikeliest heroes.

World War Z is an interesting take on the zombie mythos. It’s engaging, thoughtful and stands out from many of the other zombie stories out there. The personal recollections from characters who could be a neighbor of family member lend it a believability that’s rare in the undead genre. It’s almost easy to forget that this is a fictional account of an impossible reality.

However, that being said, the story suffered a little because of thinly veiled pop culture and political references – Paris Hilton, Bush, Obama, television shows, etc. It’s always dicey to dated references in a book, because eventually, those examples become outdated and ultimately detract from the story. Brooks could have foregone those and had a stronger story.

The first-person narratives could have been tied together a bit more to create a stronger continuity. At times, it felt like the book was left hanging, especially at the end.

Aside from those criticisms, World War Z was an enjoyable and it’d be great if a sequel was written, specifically one that delved into the stories Brooks left untold.

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Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

It’s safe to say Neil Gaiman will be remembered as a literary tour-de-force long after we are all gone. His crowning achievement – the Sandman graphic novels – secured him a place in literary history as soon as people began reading them.

It should come as no surprise that Gaiman once again revisits the mythos that consistently peppered the Sandman novels and American Gods. By now, Gaiman has credibly established a universe where ancient gods still walk among modern man, spreading their wisdom and, more often than not, wreaking mischief upon unsuspecting mankind.

The premise of Anansi Boys is this: When Charlie Nancy’s father named something, it stuck. Like the nickname Fat Charlie. Even though Fat Charlie is now a grown man, living in London and engaged, he’s still saddled with embarrassing moniker.

When his father drops dead on a karaoke bar stage, Fat Charlie has the unsettling feeling he’s still not free of the older man’s influence, and he’s correct. Nancy’s boring, staid life suddenly transforms into a bubbling maelstrom with trips across the Atlantic, the surprising appearance of a brother he never knew he had, and – perhaps the most startling revelation of all – the realization that Mr. Nancy wasn’t simply an embarrassing father. No, he was Anansi, the trickster, spider god of rebellion, and he had an annoying habit of not staying dead.

Gaiman masterfully weaves ancient mythology with subtle pathos, knowing almost every reader will easily identify with Fat Charlie’s dysfunctional family. Indeed, it’s nearly impossible to not sympathize with Charlie’s confusion when his mischievous brother appears, his sights seemingly set on ruining Charlie’s life all in the name of teaching Charlie to have a little fun.

A colorful cast of characters, including a cantankerous future mother-in-law, a shyster boss who’s been fleecing his clients for years, a group of decrepit, grouchy witches and a slew of ancient gods make this story incredibly satisfying. Blending gods with man is never easy, but Gaiman makes it look effortless.

One might say Anansi Boys is a coming-of-age story for Fat Charlie, because the man who appears on the first page of the story is nothing like the man left standing on the last, and I was glad for that.

Thunderhead sizzles with history and murder

Thunderhead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Having been a fan of the Pendergast books by Preston and Child, I decided it was high time to start reading the other works they’ve produced as a writing duo.

“Thunderhead” seemed a good choice, because it introduces archaeologist Nora Kelly, who features prominently in several of the Pendergast novels. Getting more background information on her was appealing to me, because Nora has always been a strong character and added great depth to the novels in which she’s appeared; however, a part of me was curious to see if I would like her as much in a standalone story.

The premise of Thunderhead is this: Archaeologist Nora Kelly is at a crossroads in her career, dissatisfied with her current projects and unsure of how to change that. But when a violent encounter in her childhood home leaves in possession of a letter written by her vanished father, her life suddenly changes.

In the 16-year-old letter, her father claims to have discovered Quivira, the lost city of the Anasazi Indians which is fabled to been a treasure trove of gold. Quickly mounting an expedition and backed by the Institute’s credibility and funding, her team travels deep into the remote desert and harsh canyons.

When the team finally reaches their destination, they discover an archaeological dream which quickly morphs into a horrific nightmare.

Preston and Child have a gift for solidly grounding their fiction stories in fact, which comes from extensive research. “Thunderhead” is no different, and I think it’s because they sprinkle fact within fiction that their stories are highly believable. It’s easily apparent that much time was spent researching Plains Indian culture. Without ever falling into Native stereotypes, they create a culture that could have easily inhabited the Southwest so many years ago. Weaving in accounts of early Spanish explorers helped strengthen that back story.

By the time Nora and her team reach Quivira, the reader already has the mythos of the Anasazi firmly embedded in their minds. As the story progresses and the horror of what truly occurred at the fabled city emerge, it easily meshes with the established history.

Fast-paced action scenes, believable tensions between strong-willed personalities and the ominous backdrop of the harsh Southwest all combine to form a spellbinding tale. When it finally came to a conclusion, I was pleased to discover I liked Nora Kelly even more than when I began the novel.

Readers should note that there are several particularly gruesome deaths throughout the novel, but they are never gratuitous and always serve to further the plot.