Monday, March 7, 2016

Brains, Pop-Tarts, and Farting Dogs: Zombie Fallout Book Review

I am a read-a-holic.  I have a library that can only fit in multiple bookshelves (not shelves, but full multi-tier bookshelves,) and a to-be-read pile of roughly about forty books.  The sad thing is that I keep adding more books to the pile so it never seems to shrink.  That being said, I am still very picky on my authors.  I prefer to read sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal in the fiction verse, and I span multiple genres in non-fiction except for true crime (just can’t stand those books or stories.)  But if I can’t get through a book by an author it takes a lot to get me to keep going with their career.  Once I am hooked, however, I can’t get enough.  I didn’t think that I had room for another author in my life as I had such a huge list to read through from authors that I had already established as favorites.  Then one day, a friend that is a bookseller pointed me in the direction of a new series that he had for sale in his shop.  He said it would be up my alley; he called it Zombie Fallout.  It sounded up my alley...but would it be?  I bought the first six books from him and I can tell you now that while I have only just finished the fourth book I realize that this series and this author has been the best kept secret from my household in years.

Zombie Fallout, by Mark Tufo, is quite possibly the best piece of literary gold to ever cross the paranormal fiction universe.
From the first book I was hooked.  No that is a lie.  From the first chapter.  The stories revolve around the family of the hero, Michael Talbot.  A former Marine (if there truly is such a thing as “former” military.  I’m a military brat, people.  My family can agree the camo never really rubs off.)  This “former” Marine turned blue collar worker turned white collar state construction crew employee after his cushy job bottomed out has spent many of his formidable years preparing for the worst.  A survivalist, but not a tin-foil hat level conspiracy theorist thank goodness, he and his family live a relatively normal life...until the day he finds a stranger pounding on his door licking the outside of the peephole Mike is looking through.  He finds quickly that the paranoia of most of his life was worth the preparation he put it to use for, finding that the “licker” (hehe...Resident Evil joke.  You get it?) and his “friends” outside were much more than human.  The problem?  He had just been pulled from a shower by his screaming wife to witness this and was butt-naked.  After running to the backyard to lock his gate, stepping in his dogs kaka in the yard, and then shooting a zombie through his front door, he realizes in a moment of shock and humor that he just killed his first zombie, naked and covered in dog crap.

By the end of that first chapter I was in a mixture of laughter filled glee and too curious about the rest of the story to put the book down. 

El Maistro, Mark Tufo. 

Very few authors can flush out not just a world, but a family of characters.  Even fewer can do so and make them cohesive in every book, make them grow as the world changes (because that is the reality of the human condition,) and keep their core personalities intact no matter the circumstance and how that person changes.  Mark has yet to fail in these arenas from book to book.  Not since Sherrilyn Kenyon have I seen someone build that kind of family connection between their characters that not only keep you engrossed, but also make you care about each of them.  Mike firstly is one of the most interesting to me, and not just because he is the main character.  He is as tough as nails, coming from the background he does as a Marine.  But he is admittedly and obviously human in his attitude and experiences.  His germaphobic tendencies makes survival and supply gathering problematic at times.  Despite his military background some of the sights he partakes in of the zombie apocalypse- and some things that he has to do as a result of it- leave him not only emotionally scarred, but physically ill.  He has no shame in crying when needed, yelling when not needed, and hugging the children that follow him...children ranging from fully grown to just legal to barely legal to drive.  His sons were raised to prep for the inevitable as well, learning how to fire, clean, load, and unload just about every variation of gun that they could be taught to work with.  This decision has saved their bacon many times.  Although it is hard to decide what has saved them more...the guns, or the gas that emanates from Henry, their peg English Bulldog with farts that have been known to be nuclear and even mask the smell of death wafting from the zombies.  Powerful stuff, that.

The Talbot children are steadily growing in their personalities and story lines as these books progress, and it’s interesting to see it unfold.  The youngest, Travis, a once flappable teenager, is now turning into a hard core soldier...much to his father’s fear that he’s adjusting a little too well to this new world.  The oldest son, Justin, whose closeness to his father might very well be a source of undoing for all of them (spoilers,) and his only daughter Nicole…a fully grown engaged woman that, if Mike had anything to say about it, would have nothing to do with a dangerous world and stay protected and shielded no matter what.  A decision that he obviously grew to regret as the world itself became the very thing he wanted to protect her from.  And wait until you meet Tommy.  An overweight teenage kid that resembles Forest Gump in mentality, but has the ability to, like the Mary Tyler Moore Show, turn the world on with his smile.  And with his vast assortment of Pop-Tarts and chocolates that he seems to magically produce out of nowhere at any given time. 

Variant book cover art.
And on top of it all Mike has a wife that loves him as fiercely as he loves her, yells atand hits him as hard as any soldier (and he loves her for it,) and has been known to scare the crap out of men more battled hardened than even her husband.  I really dig Tracy Talbot.

The people that they meet along their journey make the stories grow and enrich not just the books, but the lives of the Talbots.  It is also the fact that Tufo gives these characters their own personalities, but their own purposes for the how and why of being in this world that make the interweaving of their lives into the Talbot clan so perfect.  Some you love, you hate, some you see as nothing but more Talbot clan members that they just picked up along the way. 

Tufo’s knowledge of the military world and background only lend to the realism and make the books that much more enjoyable for me.  Writing what you know is essential for any writer; it is one of the unbreakable rules of fiction.  Tufo has mastered it and it keeps this ability for the flow of the stories to never ebb and the detail to remain concise; the distinct crack of different types of guns, their varying recoil/reverbs and overheating (or lack thereof,) the methods to the madness of life on a base, the way any soldier (or former soldier… if you count such a thing) would organize a group in a survival situation, even down to the way they stand at night on watch or the way they put their hands in their thumbs absentmindedly yet out of habit or stand with their backs to a wall….it is all there in the mannerisms of Talbot and his people and the writings of Tufo.  You want a story that is true to life of how surviving a Zombie Apocalypse would be, than look no further.

Tufo even pokes fun at himself for the grammatical mistakes that pop up in the book, as the book is written from Mike’s POV in the form of his personal journals.  No one is going to be concise and detailed when writing their own journal; unless you’re Stephen King or Danielle Steel then you screw up in your private diary, man.  In one particular book a man locates Mike, telling him that he had found one of his earlier journals in a town he had abandoned, and then begins to critique Mike’s spelling and punctuation errors.  This would be the only gripe a person could have about this book series, but if you take into account that A:  They are written in the form of journals and B: Tufo himself is poking fun AT himself, than all you can do is laugh and enjoy every spelling mistake from thereon after reading the critique’s barbs at Mike, wondering if he “would have had issues with that oopsie too.”

Sherrilyn Kenyon, Terry Brooks, Aletha Kontis, Orson Scott Card...these are the writers that wormed their way into my heart as permanent fixtures.  Writers that I have gone back to again and again.  They made me believe in the power of family connections, fairy tales when I was never girly enough to care before, the power of open worlds with expansive realms of imagination, and sci-fi fixtures that had the ability to give emotion along with detail when most sci-fi cannot do so.  I thought that was I was finished with making room for any more series and would stick with only these, reading books from other authors yet not any dedicated series as I couldn’t find any that stuck with me the way that these writers had.  Then Mark Tufo came along and blew me right out of the flipping water.  He made surviving against the paranormal real.  He gave it the fighters touch, the soldiers touch.  He made a world full of believable characters from huge men that look like Barret from Final Fantasy 7 with a heart of Gold to a Vampire that leads Zombies to an overweight clairvoyant kid who can win you over with a smile and a love of exotic Pop-Tarts.  He has created family among this motley crew in an expansive world that he makes believable in its destruction and in its hope for renewal.  I have found zero things in this series that I can find fault with and I promise you, you won’t either.  Pick it up and become as hooked as I have been.  You will laugh, you will cry, you will grossed out joyfully, and you will never put these books down.  And you have finished one book,  go out and get some Pop-Tarts before you start the next one.

You will thank Tommy for it.

For more on Mark Tufo and his work, check out these links:

Zombie Fallout Trailer

Mark Tufo Official Web Site

Mark Tufo Facebook

Christina Sizemore is trained in only four things:  writing, fighting, paranormal investigating, and being a mom.  At this point in her life she truly feels that she is not qualified to attempt to learn any new field.  A twenty year martial artist, mother of three, and writer who is working on the publication of her first book titled “Finding Your Way: A Guide To Your Path In The Martial Arts,” she spends her days working out, writing, making fanvids, going to DragonCon, and playing board games/video games/out in the yard with her kids and husband who are just as geeky as she is.  She is convinced that one day her skills will be of assistance in the Zombie Apocalypse and that while she is of no use in the kitchen, she can Buffy that zombie for ya or teach you the best way to get the blood stains out of your clothes (Psst…the secret is mixing Crown Cleaner and Shout.  Just sayin’.)

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