Month: July 2013

Book Review: Year Zero, by Jeff Long

It’s time for another book review! How excited are you? Yeah, me too. Today I’ll be reviewing Year Zero, by Jeff Long. You may also recognize Jeff as the author of The Descent, one of the most influential books on my budding writing career. Someday I will meet Mr. Long and we will talk…after I gush some. Right. I’m supposed to be reviewing a book. Here goes.

Year ZeroFrom the publisher:

An archaeological manhunt is raging in the holy land — a hunt for the historical Jesus. For Nathan Lee Swift, a young American field researcher and expectant father, the line between noble discovery and the plunder of ruins is sacred — until the night he crosses it. At a Roman landfill beneath the crucifixion grounds known as Golgotha, Nathan Lee yields to his professor’s greed and turns common grave robber. His world — his unborn daughter — seems lost to him.

Hundreds of miles away, on the remote Greek island of Corfu, a wealthy collector pries open his latest black-market purchase — a fourteen-inch holy relic containing a vial of blood dating back to the first century — and unleashes a two-thousand-year-old plague. As the pandemic explodes from the Mediterranean basin and threatens to devour humankind, Nathan Lee gets a chance at redemption. He embarks on an Odyssean journey back to the United States to find his family.

Skirting the edges of the world, Nathan Lee’s path finally leads him to New Mexico, where the greatest minds of science have converged at Los Alamos to find a vaccine. There Nathan Lee meets Miranda Abbot, a nineteen-year-old prodigy. As the cure continues to elude them, Miranda launches a desperate final strategy: the use of human lab rats cloned from the year zero. Nathan Lee, the thief of bones, comes face-to-face with men made from the very relics he looted, one of whom claims to be Jesus Christ, but may also be Patient Zero.

Combining the scientific precision of The Andromeda Strain with the intensity of classic adventure epics, Jeff Long takes readers on a riveting voyage through the rubble of earthquake-torn Jerusalem, the serenity of the high Himalayas, and the eerie sanctuary of Los Alamos. With Long’s characteristic originality, Year Zero races against the apocalyptic clock, creating a maze of twists, astonishing atmosphere, and the clash of science and faith.

If you’ve read The Descent, you’ll probably like Year Zero as well. Mr. Long unleashes an ancient strain of virus on the modern world. Societies collapse, governments scramble, and people die. Whole countries perish–Greece, France, China. Eventually the US is left to search for a cure before the entire globe is infected. That was one of my pet peeves about this book. I thought some of the other countries would have tried a little harder to set up labs and brain trusts to combat the virus. I would have liked to have seen more of a shared global knowledge, instead of leaving most everything up to the US.

Anyway, the star of this story is Nathan Lee Swift. He’s a man pushed to the shady side of archaeology by his brother-in-law, becoming nothing more than a grave robber and looter in order to support is new baby. With Nathan Lee, Mr. Long does a wonderful job creating a flawed, yet very human, character. I enjoyed following Nathan Lee across the globe as he desperately tried to get back to the US and his family only to run into roadblock after roadblock. He was an easy character to root for from the very beginning.

Our other main character is Miranda Abbott, the genius daughter of Dr. Paul Abbott. We first meet her as a rebellious teen who lives to thwart her father who has done nothing but feed her mind with the best tutors and mentors money can buy. Later she becomes an important figure in America’s attempt at finding a cure, and Nathan Lee’s life. Her character grew on me. Often times her youthful energy kept the moral high ground, the light shining in dark times. Which is funny because she’s the one who comes up with cloning dead folks from two thousand years ago. Basically, she’s a scientist with a heart…which gets her into trouble along the way.

This book takes on the always touchy subject of religion too. At first, the common people worship the plague victims thinking them to be angels. When the cloning begins, humanity can’t help but wonder if one of them is the actual Jesus from the Bible. If you read any of the reviews for this book, you’ll see plenty of people complain about the cloning and religious aspects of this book. I didn’t have a problem with either. Mr. Long goes out of his way to show both the scientific and the religious aspects of everything in Year Zero. Not only that, but he does it in respectful and intelligent ways. You can tell he did tons of research.

For me, this book constantly got better. The beginning took a bit to get going, but that’s to be expected with so many pieces needing attention and a world on the brink of destruction. Trust Mr. Long to take you where you need to go…until the end. Unfortunately, I felt the ending fizzled out instead of exploding in awesomeness. While there were satisfactory conclusions to most of the character and story arcs, the ending just sort of happened. It didn’t feel satisfying.

If you’re a fan of Jeff Long, quality thrillers, or great writing, this book will appeal to you. Be forewarned, Mr. Long has a tendency to take his readers on grand adventures. Year Zero is no different. Be sure to check it out. You won’t be sorry.

What I liked:

  • Superb characters. Nathan Lee was an easy character to root for. I found myself wanting to see how his tale unfolded early on.
  • The science behind the virus added layers to the story. It was easy to see Mr. Long took his time researching.
  • The religious aspect was appealing in context to the story. I feel like Mr. Long took great care in incorporating a religious storyline, which is no small feat considering how fanatical people can be. I especially like how when the chips were down, even the most scientific minds turned to religion. Very believable.
  • How big this story felt. Readers are taken to places like Nepal, China, and Russia. Did I believe the entire world was dying off? Yes. This is a grand story that affects billions of people. Apocalypse, anyone?
  • The antagonists were just as believable as the protagonists. Brilliant minds are often egotistical and hardened. Readers believe these people would do anything to be the first to discover a cure, even murder and betrayal.
  • I loved how this book challenges our idea of what it means to be human. I often found myself wondering what I would do in the face of tough choices like these characters. Do the ends justify the means in terms of searching for a cure? Would I put the needs of the human race before those of my family?
  • The pace kept me turning pages long after I knew I should have been sleeping.

What I didn’t like:

  • It takes a bit for all the pieces to come into play. The beginning is a touch slow but not enough to make you want to stop reading.
  • The ending fizzles out. While I didn’t find it unsatisfactory, I would have liked it to flow more smoothly. After a certain key scene, the next thirty pages or so felt lacking.
  • Nathan Lee reminded me a little too much of Ike from The Descent.
  • I would have like to see more of a global effort in finding a cure.

Overall: I’d give Year Zero four out of five stars. Top notch characters and plot lines make it an easy read. If religion is a touchy subject, you may want to steer clear. Although I believe Mr. Long does a fantastic job taking religious concepts and creating compelling fiction, others may take issue. With that being said, Year Zero is definitely worth your time and money.

You can find out more about Jeff Long by following this link.

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Book Review: I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson

It’s been a while since I posted a review, hasn’t it? I have been reading. It’s just that nothing wowed me until now. This is my spoiler free review of Richard Matheson’s vampire classic, I Am Legend. Yes, VAMPIRES. Forget what you saw in any of the film adaptations. In my opinion, they don’t do the book justice.

I Am LegendFrom the publisher: From out of the night came the living dead with one purpose: destroy Robert Neville, the last man on earth. A mysterious plague has swept the planet leaving in its wake this one survivor. But there is still life of a sort–vampires, the strengthless half-dead who press on Neville from every side. He is almost tempted to join them in I AM LEGEND.

Written in 1954, I Am Legend tells the story of the last man on earth, Robert Neville, who is struggling to survive day by day as the undead seek his blood. It’s amazing how well this story holds up almost sixty years later. Aside from the record players, you wouldn’t know this story is supposed to take place in the mid-seventies. With that being said, this is a character study. A finely crafted character study of a man down to his last, a man on the brink of madness in the wake of a plague ridden world. Make no mistake about it, Robert Neville is the star of this story. Readers follow him as he struggles with trying to cope with being alone and trying to survive against not only the blood crazed vampires, but the plague that created them.

Mr. Matheson does a fantastic job keeping readers focused on Neville and the vampires aren’t as important to the story as his main character. Readers experience what it feels like as Neville’s mental state fluctuates from seemingly normal, all the way to damn you cray-cray! I felt compelled to see Neville find someone else, anyone really. I kept thinking there had to be someone else out there. By the end, I wanted Neville to not only survive, but thrive. And then I realized it was because I wanted not just Neville, but humanity (because I too am human) to survive. Mr. Matheson does that to his readers. He has a way of placing them, and their humanity, in his main character. I loved it.

Believe it or not, the vampires play a minor role in this story. Sure, the world is full of them but Neville spends his time either reliving the past, questioning his existence, or trying to learn more about what caused the plague. Don’t get me wrong, the vampires are a constant threat, and a threat Neville usually doesn’t take lightly, but they aren’t at the center of the story. I will say Mr. Matheson’s theories behind this vampire plague are genuinely interesting and I can clearly see his influence on writers like Brian Lumley (author of the NECROSCOPE series), Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan (co-authors of THE STRAIN series).

If you’re a fan of vampires, you should, without a doubt, pick up this book. Horror fans will like this one too. Many of the modern masters have been influenced by Richard Matheson, you may too. If anything, you’ll find a clinic on how to write a borderline insane character that readers still root for, and love. While most classics feel dated and dry, I Am Legend lives up to the name…and then some.

What I liked:

  • The main character, Robert Neville, was presented as flawed as any “normal” person would be coping with the end of the world. Mr. Matheson crafted a memorable character, and he had to because there aren’t that many. Neville is easily one of the best characters I’ve read in a long time.
  • Mr. Matheson did an excellent job making readers feel Neville’s isolation. We really believe his is the last man on earth.
  • I found myself wanting Neville to survive. I unknowingly cared what happened to Neville. I’d giggle at his crazy moments. I’d chastise him when he screwed up. It was like I was there, pulling for Neville.
  • Mr. Matheson had me questioning, and thinking about, my humanity. Who am I? What would I do? How would I survive? Any book that can get you thinking about big issues is doing something right.
  • The post-apocalyptic world, even though it was small, was well done. Neville had to forage for supplies, constantly re-build fortifications, and dispose of dead vampires daily.
  • The science behind the vampire plague was genuinely interesting.
  • I like how Neville took to the bottle when he was stressed, or sad, or depressed. It was another aspect of how real he felt. I could see many of us doing the same thing.

What I didn’t like:

  • The ending. I’m not going to spoil anything but I didn’t believe Neville would do what he did.
  • I would have liked a little more action involving the vampires. There was some, but I think there were places where the story could have been beefed up with action.

Overall: I’d give I Am Legend four out of five stars. This definitely is a classic vampire story that should be read by fans of the genre. I would caution anyone seeking this book because of any of the three versions of the film. You won’t find those stories here. What you will find is a character driven story of a man and how he struggles to survive in a world lost to a vampire plague. The book is far superior, in my opinion, to the films. All-in-all, this is a timeless read that should be on the shelf of any horror, and/or vampire fan. Seriously, pick it up today.

Song of the Week: Tonight Alive–Breakdown

I’ve featured this Aussie band on the blog before and I’m pleased to share something new from them! It’s a catchy pop-punk song featuring Benji Madden from Good Charlotte. I like it and figured you would too. Give it a listen. Be forewarned: you will be under Tonight Alive’s spell if you do. Mwuh-huh-ha!

Visit Tonight Alive’s official website here: http://www.tonightaliveofficial.com/au