One of the great promises of the digital age is the free flow of information and the ability to access to combined knowledge of centuries in the blink off an eye. It’s led to incredible leaps in productivity and fostered unprecedented innovation in both business and science. What wasn’t promised, but has nevertheless been delivered, is the use of this innovation by governments and private entities to break down the traditional bounds of privacy and liberty. To most, the Internet is an easy, harmless way to keep in touch with friends, as well as a cheap, anonymous way to consume information and news. Brad Thor’s latest thriller, “Black List”, is a lit match thrown into the tinderbox of those misguided assumptions about privacy in the digital age. The resulting blaze serves to illuminate the dangers inherent in government’s unquenchable thirst for your “private” information when coupled with their unchecked ability to use that information for any purpose they see fit.
What do you get when you mix nanotechnology, Thomas Jefferson, the lost tribe of Israel, super volcanoes, Lewis and Clark, killer whales, Fort Knox, American Indian artifacts, secret codes, and Mormonism? You get the latest Sigma Force novel from James Rollins – “The Lost Colony”. You also get a quite enjoyable read.
Well, 2011 is drawing to a close, and what a year it’s been. Given that it’s New Year’s Eve, I couldn’t let the year slip into the past without sharing my top books of 2011 with you all. Just like last year, I couldn’t constrain myself to just ten books – so I decided to go with the flow and give you my top eleven again. It’s a diverse group of titles, with some familiar names and some newcomers as well. We have frustrated punk wannabes, kidnap victims, Jesus and Judas, allegories for the dangers of world government, time travel, video games, ancient China, worldwide conspiracies, and – of course – zombies. Enjoy!
This is the book that surprised me most this year. A disturbing and insightful exploration of the underside of relationships and personal awareness, my first reaction was – “The story didn’t so much end as it simply bled out, lying in a pool of it’s own vomit on the cheap linoleum bathroom floor of a mobile home.” But, as I let it marinate, I realized it would have been a gross disservice to the book to leave that as my final word. They story stayed with me, and that says a lot. Ludlow has a raw voice that deserves to be heard. (full review)
“Six Days” was part of the inaugural trio of books released from Maelstrom Books. There’s good reason Brian Keene chose to include Owen’s debut novel in the release. It’s a gripping story that finds us trapped in a dark basement with Jenny Schultz. With no further explanation, the narrative unfolds as Jenny struggles to figure out just what is going on. It’s a smart move on Owen’s part and serves to create a claustrophobic cocktail of unease and uncertainty. In today’s world of omnipotent narrators and worn out horror clichés, it’s refreshing in a very Chianti and fava beans sort of way. (full review)
One of the most engrossing and original stories I’ve read. From the moment Travis Chase stumbles across a downed 747 in the Alaskan wilderness containing the body of the first lady, to the final twists delivered in the book’s closing pages; this is a story that will not let you go. Lee deftly weaves sci-fi with political intrigue and straight-up action in this thinking man’s thriller. More than once I found myself caught flat-footed by a surprise turn, and the story hid its final secrets from me until the very end. That’s worth the price of admission to me.
I discovered this book on Twitter via recommendation from author James Rollins. What a great find. A thought provoking and, to some, controversial take on the Religious Fiction genre, “30 Pieces of Silver” runs two concurrent stories – one detailing the relationship between Jesus and Judas and one taking you on a modern day quest to find Jesus’ bones. The story is cinematic both in its ambition and execution. It also has one of the most shocking and unexpected endings I’ve read in a very long time. I can’t wait for the sequel. (As a side note, “30 Pieces of Silver” is the second most widely read review on The Word Zombie. Stay tuned for number one…) (full review)
This is the first young-adult Zombie I’ve read – and it’s a good one. Combining elements of “They Live”, “Percy Jackson”, and Brian Keene’s “The Rising” – it all comes together to give a fresh take on the zombie genre. A group of kids is pulled together by their ability to see the “Corpses” – undead invaders that appear as normal people to most. As they fight against potential invasion, Drago draws some subtle parallels between their struggle and the struggles we all face when crossing over from child to young adult. I’m looking forward to the next installment in this series out in 2012. (full review)
Guy Gavriel Kay continues to raise the bar in historical fantasy literature. A hauntingly beautiful and lushly realized society, based on Tang Dynasty China, forms the backdrop for this tale. Shen Tai has spent the last two years honoring his dead father by burying the unremembered dead from the last Great War between empires. Presented with a gift of unimaginable value by his people’s enemies, Shen Tai is set on a course that intersects love and duty in the realm of emperors. Epic in scope and lyrical in delivery, “Under Heaven” is yet another jewel in Gavriel Kay’s crown.
“Deadline” is the second installment in Grant’s Newsflesh Trilogy. With the first book, “Feed”, Mira Grant established herself as a major new voice in zombie fiction. With “Deadline”, she proves that “zombie” is a superfluous addition to that accolade. Here she weaves a tale about government overreach, the value of truth, and the dangers of trading liberty for safety. It’s a deeply layered and thought provoking exercise where the story comes first, the zombies second. The zombies are merely the symptom of the disease, the result of the action, the recoil of the gun. Do yourself a favor – read this book. (full review)
“11/22/63” is one of the best books from Stephen King in years. On its surface, it’s a story about time travel and one man’s journey to try and prevent the assassination of JFK. It’s a look at early 60’s America – both the idyllic small town life of nostalgia and the turbulent political maelstrom of the newswires. More than all of that, it’s a story about the choices we make, the paths we take, and the true value of love. A special thanks goes to King’s son, Joe Hill, who – according to the afterword – suggested the emotionally resonate ending for the story.
“Forbidden” is set in a world where almost all emotions have been genetically repressed, only fear remains – fear that is used by the government to keep the population under control. It’s a compelling meditation on the dangers of centralized world government. It explores the idea that – while human feelings and passions are messy, and people have a capacity for both good and evil – the alternative to that chaotic swirl of emotions is an antiseptic and bleak existence. Like “Deadline”, this book will force you to consider what it really means to sacrifice freedom for security – even if that freedom is just the freedom to feel. (full review)
At times nuanced and at other times blunt, Thor pulls no punches in deconstructing the broader adversaries aligned against us in the world today in “Full Black”. It’s a story about layers, and serves to lay the foundation for the continued evolution of both Thor as a storyteller and Scot Harvath as a character. Not a simple “stop the plot, save the world” story, “Full Black” is instead an intelligent examination of current events and a wake-up call for free thinking people everywhere. It may only be fiction, but it’s a book you should read. Consider it an alarm clock. We’ve hit the snooze button one too many times already. It’s time to wake up. (“Full Black” is the most widely read review on The Word Zombie. Thanks Brad!) (full review)
In my review of “Ready Player One”, I wrote – “It may only be August, but I feel certain I’ve just read my favorite book of 2011.” I was right. Wade Watts is one of millions consumed with the virtual reality world of OASIS. When its creator dies, he sets in motion an epic quest to unlock the secrets of the system. The story is a love letter to all things pop culture from the 80’s – and it’s great fun. It’s hard to imagine a book being more perfect for me. It drew me in from the first chapter and whisked me along on a trip down memory lane. So much of my childhood is represented in this book; it felt like putting on a comfortable pair of old blue jeans. I realized about half way through that this is the book my 13 year-old self didn’t know he was preparing my 40 year-old self to love. No doubt about it – best book of the year. (full review)
So there you have it – my 11 favorite books of the year. Did I leave something off? Disagree with the order I have them in? Anything you think I need to read next year that will make the list? I would love to know what you think. Until then – Happy New year!
My daughter is just learning to read. It’s a fun time here in our house, and particularly gratifying for me to see her beginning what I hope is a long and rewarding love affair with books. .
She’s always been artistic (she designed the logo for thewordzombie.com), and now she’s throwing her hat into the writing and reviewing ring. Not really knowing what blogging is about, she still wanted to “review” a few books for me and have them posted. As a father – how could I resist? So, without further ado – here are the first two book reviews by my daughter – or, as she told me she would like to be known here – “Little Miss Chocolate Zombie”.
“Elf” is a story about Buddy the Elf. My favorite part was when he reached the tallest branches on the tallest Christmas tree. It was really funny when he carried a bunch of candy canes. I didn’t like it when Buddy left Papa elf for a while.
I learned the being different from everyone is what makes you, you. “Elf” is a good Christmas book. You should read it.
“Unlovable” is about a dog named Alfred. The cat tells him that he is unlovable. I didn’t like it when the cat taught the parrot to say “unlovable”.
My favorite part was when the new people moved in next door to Alfred. Alfred’s next-door neighbor is a dog like him named Rex. At first, Alfred told Rex he was a Golden Retriever because he though he was unlovable. Rex dug a hole under the fence so he could play with Alfred. I liked it when Alfred and Rex played together.
The story showed me that even when someone says you are unlovable, you CAN be lovable. I think Alfred is lovable. He is really cute when he eats and sleeps. He has a cute curly tail.
You should read this book. It will teach you a lot of different things. I learned that you should stay away from people who are mean to you.
And there you have it. The first is what could be a long string of hard-hitting reviews from “Little Miss Chocolate Zombie”. Let me know what you think – I’ll pass the feedback along to her. I would just caution you to be nice. She has quite a temper and holds a grudge for a LONG time. She is, after all, her father’s daughter. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
In the year 2005, geneticists discovered the human gene that controlled both innate and learned forms of fear. It was called Stathmin, or Oncoprotein 18. Within 15 years, genetic influencers for all primary emotions were similarly identified.
Nearly a decade later, in the wake of catastrophic war that destroyed much of civilization, humanity vowed to forsake all that had conspired to destroy it. Out of the ashes rose a new world in which both the advanced technologies and the passionate emotions that led to its ruin were eliminated. A world without hatred, without malice, without sorrow, without anger.
The only emotion genetically allowed to survive was fear. For 480 years, perfect peace reigned.
With those words, Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee open “Forbidden”, the first novel in their new “The Book of Mortals” series (releasing on 9/13/11). I’ll admit, I’ve never read anything by Dekker or Lee in the past. Based on “Forbidden”, that’s an oversight I need to correct. Whether by design, or by happenstance, they have put forth an effort that provides one of the best and most accessible expositions on the dangers of world government I’ve read in a very long time. It also happens to be an exceptionally good story.
We are hosting our first official book giveaway here at The Word Zombie. We are giving away a free copy of “Lockdown” by Alexander Gordon Smith. It’s the first book in Smith’s “Escape From Furnace” series (the third installment of which – “Death Sentence” was released on August 2nd of this year).
Beneath Heaven is Hell….Beneath Hell is Furnace! Furnace Penitentiary: the world’s most secure prison for young offenders, buried a mile beneath the earth’s surface. Convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, sentenced to life without parole, “new fish” Alex Sawyer knows he has two choices: find a way out, or resign himself to a death behind bars, in the darkness at the bottom of the world.
So, how do you enter to win the book? Simple – just leave a comment below and you will receive one entry in the giveaway. Want an even better chance to win? Tweet the following and you will receive TWO entries into the contest – “Check out @thewordzombie and enter to win a free copy of “Lockdown” by Alexander Gordon Smith. Visit them here – http://bit.ly/pRCZo6″
All entries (both comments and tweets) should be received by 5:00CST on Saturday, September 3, 2011. You can both leave a comment and Tweet once each day between now and the 3rd. The winner will be randomly chosen on Sunday, September 4th. Thanks – and good luck!
“Samson and Denial” is a new novella from Bob Ford. Part good old-fashioned horror story, part character study on the necessity and danger of denial as a survival mechanism – it’s an engrossing story that hides a surprising depth. Ford packs a hell of a lot (and a lot of hell) in to these 125 pages.
The story follows Samson, a man of not a few faults and shortcomings:
We’ve never met, you know me. There’s someone like me in every crowd.
I’m the guy who always has a stain on his shirt or has his fly unzipped. I’m the guy who leaves the men’s room with a ribbon of toilet paper trailing from the heel of his shoe. On a Chinese calendar I’m the guy who’s born in the year of the pig or the rabbit or the cock. Never something cool like the year of the tiger or the dragon.
I’m never the cool guy.
When I go back and watch a Spielberg film from the late 70s or early 80s, it has a certain look and feel to it – a tone that is instantly recognizable. When I watch a sitcom from the 80s, it has a singular cadence that instantly puts me at ease, and prepares me to have my problems solved in 30 minutes or less. When I play a video game from the late 70s or early 80s, it makes my fingers itch for a quarter. And, when I read one of the books I loved when I was a teenager, it brings back the pure joy I would find in losing myself in another time and another place. I spend so much time thinking about what I read now; it’s becoming more and more rare for me to find that unadulterated escape in a book anymore. I found it when I read “Ready Player One” – and I loved it.
When I reviewed Kelli Owen’s novel “Six Days” earlier this year, I had this to say:
Owen has set the bar very high with her debut novel, a bar I have no doubt she will be able to surpass. Her blend of human observations, horror sensibilities, and gifted prose portend great things for her in the future.
With the release of her novella “The Neighborhood” in September, you will find that she is delivering quite nicely on that potential.
The titular neighborhood in the book is Neillsville, a town so small it “doesn’t even have its own Local Weather on the 8s”. It’s the kind of small town where the idea of idyllic living is far more important, and far more real, than the living itself. The kind of town where the best-kept secrets are the ones kept out in the open for everyone to see.
Last week I had the opportunity to attend a book signing in Little Rock, AR with Brad Thor. Brad is wrapping up a promotional swing in support of his latest release “Full Black”. (If you haven’t had a chance to read “Full Black”, it’s one of Brad’s best books to date. You can read my review of it here.) It was the first Brad Thor book signing I’ve had a chance to attend and after my experience – it definitely won’t be the last.
The signing was held at Books-A-Million in Little Rock. That meant a 3 ½ hour drive for me. I was a bit tired when I finally arrived, but the staff at Books-A-Million were all very helpful. The setting for the event was casual and intimate. When Brad arrived, he greeted the crowd and thanked everyone for coming out to support him. He then spent the next half hour talking about a wide range of subjects; everything from the inspiration for “Full Black” (“I went out to people I knew in the intelligence and special operations community and I said – I write about what keeps me up at night. This time, though, I want to know – what keeps you up at night?), an update on the adaptation of his Scot Harvath books into films (“We signed a big deal with Warner Brothers in November.”), and his views on Islam (“I’ve never been anti-Islam. I’m definitely anti-Islamist. There is a difference. If you say your religion compels you to go kill people – your interpretation of your religion sucks.”)
After a few questions from the audience, Brad jumped in to signing books. He was genuinely excited to meet and talk to his fans. He took time to speak to everyone personally as they reached the table, he took pictures with anyone and everyone who asked, and he was happy to sign as many books as people had brought with them. In short, he showed true class and an appreciation for those that have read and loved his books over the years. (In another classy move, he invited any veterans and any parents with small children to come directly to the front of the line. That, more than anything, impressed me – and spoke to his character.)
As the evening was wrapping up, only I was left, along with quite a few active members of the Thorum – Brad’s online discussion forum. As I sat and listened to Brad talk with them, I was struck by the camaraderie they all shared. It was more an easy conversation among friends than a book signing between author and fans. I realized that I was seeing the true secret to the success of Brad Thor – a desire and willingness to truly connect with people. To have a conversation – not just give a lecture.
After the event was over, every book signed and every picture taken, Brad was kind enough to spend some time talking with me. It was great to sit down and chat with him in person. He has an infectious energy about him and an engaging personality. It was late, he was feeling a bit under the weather, but he was more than gracious with his time. I hope you, faithful reader, enjoy our conversation.