Book Review: Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

Hi all…

When I am moved by good storytelling, it usually provokes more than a surface-level emotional response. When I’m moved to tears by a writer, it’s something truly special. But before I get to talking about Rot & Ruin, I want to make a strange analogy…

On American Idol, the judges are fond of saying that some contestants could “sing the phone book” and they would pay to listen. I think the same thing exists with writers. Some gifted wordsmiths have the magical ability to imbue so much life to their stories that I think they could probably randomly select one of Georges Polti’s The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations, a random genre, setting, and character, and create a story that you would enjoy 99% of the time. Not every writer has that gift, but a few do.

Jonathan Maberry first came to my attention in 2009 with his book Patient Zero, which combines one hell of an action plot with zombies for a fast-paced, engaging story. I’ll be the first to tell you that I like zombies, but I really like some of the deeper, emotionally-charged zombie stories of recent years. Books like Mira Grant’s Feed, David Moody‘s Autumn, and some of the unique short fiction anthologies of zombie fiction like The New Dead really get my imagination pumping.

One of the stories in 2010′s The New Dead was Maberry’s “Family Business,” which quite honestly was one of the most moving stories I’ve read in a long time. I was wiping away tears as I read it on a plane a year ago. And when I heard that it was the beginning of a new young adult series he was working on, I became very excited.

The world of “The Family Business” and Rot & Ruin exists after a zombie uprising known simply as First Night. After First Night, everything changed and survivors began gathering together in walled cities to keep the zombies outside. Benny Imura just turned fifteen and has grown up after First Night, so he didn’t know the world before. His brother Tom survived the event and went on to become one of the most respected zombie killers in the area. When Benny can’t quite hack it at any of the other jobs in town (locksmith, fence tester, generator repair man, artist, and many more), he decides it must be time to try the family business and learn the trade from his brother…

As with most decisions that seem simple at the time, Benny has no idea what he’s getting himself into. Though he idolizes some of the other zombie killers like Charlie Pink-Eye and Motor City Hammer, he doesn’t understand why Tom is always mentioned along with them as one of the best. He always thought his brother was a bit of a wimp because he tried to avoid violent conflict. But when he starts learning how to hunt and how Tom works, he’s thrust into a violent world where the worst things aren’t always the zombies.

Rot & Ruin is an amazing story on many levels. It expands on the short story in a variety of ways, fleshing out the world that includes bad dudes, cool chicks, and mysteries galore. I am very excited to see where the story goes in the next book – Dust & Decay – out later this year.

This definitely isn’t for all readers. There is a lot of violence, discussion of rape, and scary situations. So be sure to think about who reads it if you’re considering it for a particularly young reader. The Young Adult (YA) label is very appropriate in this case. But if you are a zombie fan and want to get a YA reader hooked on the genre, it’s tough to beat Rot & Ruin.

Jonathan Maberry is a gifted author with a penchant for creating engaging worlds, plots, and characters to suck you into a story that won’t let you go. Definitely check out Rot & Ruin if you’re looking for a great zombie story!

–Fitz

p.s. Check out these great books from Jonathan Maberry…

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American Idol 10: Chris Medina Speaks on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno

Everybody at my house is a big fan of American Idol. Though I initially resisted watching the first couple of seasons, by season 3 or 4 I decided to take the plunge and here we are at season 10!

Well, one of our favorites was Chris Medina, who’s touching story caught our attention during the auditions and we rooted for him through Hollywood Week. His fiancee Juliana was in a car accident that caused a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Chris has stuck by her through thick and thin. It was amazing to see the judges – Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler be equally touched by his story at the initial audition when they met Juliana.

Unfortunately, Hollywood Week didn’t work out for Chris. Though he made it to the Top 40, he didn’t make the cut to the top 24 and had to be sent home. But through it all he’s kept a smile on his face and his head high – an inspiration to everyone, including his fiancee.

He had a great interview with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show the other night, and here’s what he had to say:

Be sure to watch American Idol on Fox to see the top 24 perform this week!

–Fitz

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Music Review: Bobby Long – A Winter Tale

Hey there…

When I was 24, I was still trying to figure out my life. How many of us can honestly say we knew what we were doing with the rest of our lives by that point? And yet, in this age of American Idol, we now see kids as young as fifteen entering the limelight without any clue of what’s to come.

So when I heard Bobby Long’s music, I was in shock and awe not only that A Winter Tale was his debut studio album, but that he had that much conviction behind his words at age 24. It turns out he’s one of the few young talented folks who actually had his act together at a young age (17). He started at open-mic nights in London as he went to London Metropolitan University studying music in film and writing a thesis on “The Social Impact of American Folk Music” and has been touring over the last couple of years building his fanbase.

Between his great guitar skills and poetic lyrics, Bobby was a rising star with a bright future. His fans already know that. But with his album about to be released, the rest of the world has no idea what’s coming. From the opening strains of “A Winter Tale” through “A Stranger Song,” he had me enthralled as he told his stories in song.

I was raised in a house where I heard a ton of folk music growing up, but even since then I haven’t heard much that comes close to Bobby’s style and sound. The mix of blues and folk influences that comes closest may be Peter Mulvey, who’s one of my favorites. But there’s more country-blues and rock in Bobby’s guitar arrangements that offers something unique. There’s a sadness to each of these tales sung with an emotional punch and a voice that holds much more experience than someone so young ought to have.

A Winter Tale pairs the young artist’s talents with some amazing folks backing him up. Nona Hendryx (LaBelle) offers background vocals on “Penance Fire Blues” and Icelandic singer Lay Low offers backing vocals on other tracks. Add to that the pedal steel guitar of B.J. Cole (who plays with Elton John and Sting), and others and you end up with a textured release that simply doesn’t sound like a debut album. This might as well have been Bobby’s third or fourth…

But let me get back to the songs themselves…

“Who Have You Been Loving” tells the tale of moving on from someone who’s wronged him with a message loud and clear – “If someone isn’t hurt, then it’s gonna be me / but the tears they taint your heart, you’re so happy that you’re free / if you’re no better now than you’ve ever been / you owe me an apology…” But he’s moving on – “Before the dusk falls to dark, I’ll have you banished from my mind / I just need a moment’s rest to make it mine…” With a steady blues beat in the background and an electric guitar offering a bit of harshness, the song doesn’t beat around the bush…

And then in “Sick Man Blues,” we’re presented with a very different sound. This time the singer speaks fondly of a woman who’s bad news… It’s a dichotomy of happy, upbeat finger picking and sad lyrics often found in folk music. “Your love carries the rhinestone of a plague, so bear in mind the lives that you could save / I’m bound to walk the darkness again…” It’s an old story told with a new voice. “My love it sits untainted to the rigours of your stare / there ain’t anybody like you and the fairness of your hair / it leaves me stranded…” Could he walk away? It’s hard to say.

But my favorite song on the album has to be “Penance Fire Blues,” with its rhythmic strumming and gospel blues feel as it tells tales of a man suffering in a darkness of his own making. This might as well be about world politics as much as love. “You back down a hallway / to flourish the darkness / and you fool yourself / You did it all for her / and him, and her…” The truths we all cling to fade away in the end. What do reasons matter when compared with the deeds themselves?

How can someone so young have such insights into the world? Like all of us, Bobby Long is a product of his times – but damn if he doesn’t have an amazing way of expressing himself. If this is one of the new sounds of modern folk, I’ll be listening until they put me in the ground.

Looking for a fresh voice? Check out Bobby Long’s A Winter Tale today. Check out his website at BobbyLong.info for more about the album and his touring schedule to see if he’s in your neck of the woods!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great albums from Barnes & Noble:

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