Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Upcoming M Sighting: YA Day

What's YA Day?

I asked the very same question when pal Katie Wood Ruffin proposed that I join her for a YA Day at my local bookstore. It was explained to me thus: YA Day is a chance to promote and discuss Young Adult/Teen Books with readers. Well, of course, I was game! Any opportunity to share a love of reading one of my favorite "genres" of book. Until now, I had no idea something like this was open to authors as well as unpublished writers (like myself). If I'd have known, I would've endeavored to do it much sooner. So, after a short proposal process, Katie and I received permission to hang out in the YA section of my neighborhood Books-a-Million (for four hours on March 31st) and chat up other readers about what they are reading, share what I'm reading, make suggestions, and not get myself kicked out for loitering or soliciting.
(It's like a dream Saturday afternoon come true!)
Here's the flyer:

That's right. Door prizes and goodies, also! Many thanks to my friends Bekka Black and Sophie Littlefield who sent along some surprises for a few lucky attendees. <---This is going to be exciting stuff! Plus, Katie and I will be handing out suggested reading lists and a few other fun things. 

Needless to say, it'll be a new adventure and experience for me. (I'll be sure to blog about it--and take pictures for you all.) Most of all, it's an opportunity to stretch my under-developed social butterfly wings. If you are in the Biloxi, MS area Saturday afternoon stop by and say, "hello." I'd love to see you.

Peas, Love, and Happy Reading. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Hunger Games: Book vs Film

J's Take

Whenever I hear of Hollywood adapting a book for film my first thought is usually "Yay! Good for the author!" My second thought is usually "I hope they don't screw it up." In the case of The Hunger Games, I can say Hollywood did not screw up.

I admit The Hunger Games was one of the first YA books I read (outside of the Harry Potter series) that I really enjoyed. Suzanne Collins doesn't waste a single word in the book. Every word, every phrase, every action has a purpose. Yes, the plot seems straightforward: In a post-apocalyptic world, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her sister's place in a violent, death match "game show" and inadvertently starts a rebellion. However, once I read the book, I discovered the plot isn't nearly as clear I wanted to believe.

Character motives are suspect. The politics ruling the games are murky at best. Loyalty is as rare and precious as diamonds.  Collins packs so much into her writing that I sometimes had trouble following all the threads, but she tied up all the important ones for Katniss by the end and left several to trail into the second book. In short, I loved the book.

So how does my love the book translate to the film? I really enjoyed the film. The writers, producers, and directors took great care in adapting the major points and following the characters' development. They showed restraint in keeping the gore and on-screen violence minimal but the sheer brutality of the Games isn't lost. The film captures The Hunger Games in all its so-called glory, from the beautifully shallow pageantry to the heartbreaking depths of sacrifice and sorrow.

Unfortunately, some of the more subtle nuances of the book's plot and character development are lost due to the constraints of time. The Hunger Games film already tops 2 hours in length (2 hours and 22 minutes, according to and adding these subplots and lengthy character developments would've sent it spiraling into multiple installments. Does this mean its inferior to the book? Absolutely not. It's a great adaptation and companion to the book. If you haven't read the book, have no fear. You'll understand exactly what's taking place. (My husband hasn't read the book and loved the film.) If you have read it, I think you'll find it enjoyable with only a few minor changes.

My best advice: Read the book. See the movie. Enjoy them both.

Alexis's take

This over-word-count fangirl moment brought to you by five pages of notes taken during my second viewing in four days.

Yep. That's right. This movie was so good I saw it twice on opening weekend. And I'll tell you this, even my husband {a... *gasp* ...non-reader} has read the book and not only seen the movie, but actually matched my own eagerness leading up to its release. In fact, he was so eager to see the movie, that he only shook his head lovingly when I went to stand in line at 7:15 for our 8:50 showtime.

I read The Hunger Games {and Catching Fire} about three years ago, at M's recommendation, and I fell instantly in love. No one else that I knew had read it, and I wasted no time telling them all it was a must-read. Sadly, most of my non-writer friends are also non-readers, and until the previews for the movie surfaced, only the handful of readers I knew had taken my advice {and also fell in love with the series}. But it was something of an experience itself, watching the bandwagon roll into town and pick up nearly all of my coworkers, who, despite not listening to me for three years, gave me the credit for getting them to read the books. I took it, proudly. Every day, one or three or five of them would run up to me and say "Oh, I just read this part! Holy crap!" ...or something similar. I hadn't read the books since Michelle and I's infamous lack-of-sleep-sleepover on the release day of Mockingjay {in which we'd reverted to nerdy thirteen-year-old-girls and stayed up all night reading it aloud to one another}. Because of the sudden rush of new readers, I got to experience the entire story over and over again. And honestly, it really added to my own excitement for the movie. Which is what I'm supposed to be talking about...

So, having seen it twice -- with a couple days between to discuss it with anyone and everyone who'd listen -- I was able to see a couple of the "issues" I'd had during my first viewing with fresh eyes and a more open perspective. And I'm very glad I did. Because for the most part, my opinion changed. When it didn't, I was at least able to pinpoint exactly what was bothering me about the particular scene.

If you haven't read the book yet... {and seriously, where have you been all this time?} then you might wanna read it before this review. If you haven't seen the movie, but are an avid fan, you might gain some insight and keep yourself from that all-too-familiar book-fan-wants-movie-to-be-identical-to-book disappointment. I will be thorough.


First, I want to say that Jennifer Lawrence was incredible. I had my doubts about some of the casting, initially, but not her. Aside from her, I hadn't pictured many of these characters like the actors chosen to play them. Like many readers, I tend to bend descriptions to fit the images in my head. {My favorite was President Snow. I pictured him as a short, lean, snakey, middle-aged Asian man. It took me a long time to rearrange the image to fit that of Donald Sutherland  -- who is decidedly not short, lean, snakey, or Asian}. Others I was confused/concerned about leading up to the movie included: Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, and Lenny Kravitz. {I have my reasons. All of them as weird as the one for President Snow}.
But, damn. Did they make a fan out of me. Not a single actor cast in this movie felt like they hadn't been those characters all their lives. Now I don't know how I ever pictured anyone else.

Second, I have to say how impressed I am with the music choices in this movie. Leading up to it, I mislead myself to believe that the companion soundtrack {which was amazing, save for one song} was the music used in the actual film. Instead, there were only instrumentals that pulled you in the exact directions of emotion needed for each moment. A particularly genius and quite daring move was the, in many cases, lack of music. I say daring because there are bound to be critics who latch onto this. I say genius because it is mentioned many times in the book how absent music is in Katniss's life, and it therefore echoes the tone of the book. In fact, in the lining-up-for-the-reaping scene, the lack of music was downright haunting. All I can say is, the sound guys paid attention to detail, stayed true to the tone of the story, and I have literally ZERO complaints. 

Third, the filming of this movie was both smart and stunning. The Hunger Games is written in first person, which means we are in Katniss's head the entire time. It means we feel close to Katniss, and that her experiences are very personal. And while we get to see so many other point of view moments in this film {all great additions to the fleshing out of the story, which are otherwise lost without Katniss's inner-dialogue} the entire thing retains the close, personal feel of the novel. I will dive into my favorite examples of this in the highlights, but overall, it was truly well done.

HIGHLIGHTS {the good (+) and the bad (-)}  
Unless I want to explain in a way the notes do not, I'm simply going to write exactly what I wrote in my notes as I watched the film. These will be in pink.

(•)I'm glad I knew ahead of time that Madge and the Avox backstory were going to be cut, because it didn't bother me in the slightest when I saw the movie, because I was prepared for it.

(+)The title sequence is a simple, no frills explanation of the state of the world, and the reason for the games. Brilliantly, "The Hunger Games" simply lingers, white type on a black background, while the explanation fades. It's powerful, straightforward, and seems to say: "This is what I am. Take it or leave it." Much like Katniss's personality.

(+)The movie opens with Caesar Flickerman discussing the games with Seneca Crane {Tucci and Bently were absolutely fantastic in their roles}. They are in this glittering world of television and glamor, and after Flickerman asks Crane what his signature style is for the games, in a dead-on answer, the scene cuts to the poverty-stricken backwoods of District 12 and the hauntingly powerful scream of a young child {Prim} waking from a nightmare about the games.

(+)Buttercup... glad you made it into the film.

(-)A few times throughout the movie, my friends' husbands would have to ask questions to parts that, while explained enough for those of us who've read the books, were not fleshed out enough for non-readers to understand. It is mentioned in passing that Gale's name is in the reaping ball 42 times, but not how or why {until later, when we aren't paying attention to that vague detail} his name got in more than others.

(+)Gale. Aside from being maybe a little too gorgeous for the part, Liam Hemsworth played it well. I had no trouble believing him as Gale for a moment. His part in these books is tricky, as he doesn't have much actual screen time. But what little he's given he's able to bring across the fiery spirit behind his calm facade. It was very well done.

(+)The Reaping. Initially, I was displeased with how long Katniss's stunned silence lasted. However, on the second pass, sitting in the theater next to my sister {whom I'd always equated to Prim, being an older sister myself} the timing was perfect. The way Katniss tells Prim "I'm sorry," made me ache. The way she told her mother "Don't cry," said everything her character had thought in that moment in the book. And man, every time Willow Shields cried out, it broke your heart.

(+)Love the addition of the "movie" at the Reaping. A nod to the ones Katniss talks about watching in school, in the book. 

(+)Peeta. Josh Hutcherson was never the right actor for this part, for me, until I saw his face at the Reaping. That boy is an incredible actor. The stunned look on his face when Effie called his name was... well... it shut up any doubts I had about him playing Peeta. Sure, I pictured his build differently, his face maybe not so young... but the emotion that boy put into even just a wiggle of an eyelid... incredible. I felt everything he felt. Joy, fear, shock, regret... everything.

(+)Effie. Awesome. Elizabeth Banks was a definite surprise. I didn't know that much about her, as I hadn't seen much of her work. But she struck a perfect balance between humor and seriousness, absurdity and reality. She felt real, even in all the costuming, makeup, and wigs. I'm certainly a fan of her now.

(+)Haymitch. Opening scene... that collar. lol

(+) Haymitch. Oh. My. Lord. Woody Harrelson was SO good. He made that character so real for me. Just like in the book, I laughed at him, I wanted to punch him, I grew to like him. He was so believable. His motives so clear. He told us everything about Haymitch's backstory and his character with, oftentimes, a simple look or gesture. And getting to see him in action "behind the scenes" during the games was a great bonus to the story.

(+)Katniss knifes the table between Haymitch's fingers... Effie, scandalized: "That is Mahogany!" great moment.

(+)Cinna. Lenny Kravitz took perhaps my favorite character in the series and made me love him all over again. He was truly perfect. All my doubts erased the moment he spoke to Katniss about being brave.

(-)The Tribute Parade. In the first viewing, I got hung up on the special effects of the flames. While I loved the makeup, hair, and costumes, I thought the flames looked too obviously CGI. However, in the second viewing I found I had no issues whatsoever with the flames. In fact, what I'd mistakenly found "cheesy" became the best part. The crowd reactions, when the film cut to closeups of their faces, felt like extras in a movie who were trying too hard. Their faces were plastered with excitement and happiness, but their eyes didn't sell me. So they all looked like clowns. To aggravate me further, Peeta and Katniss don't simply hold hands in defiance, they lift them up and smile excitedly, as though they've already won, playing into that cheesiness I was feeling toward the crowd. I wanted them to be more subtle. I think it would have made the disparity between them and the crowd even greater, and made that moment feel more real to me.

(+)Training. Seeing the Tributes' characters flesh out here was really nicely done. I immediately felt fond of Rue when she stole a Career's knife. Thresh was exactly the character I hoped he'd be. He was strong, intimidating, and yet, as he joins in Katniss, Peeta, and Rue's silent laughter at the Careers fighting over the missing knife, he's immediately likeable.

(+)Peeta shows his painting skills. Awesome.

(+)The Individual Evaluation. Aside from Katniss going before Peeta, and the gamemakers laughing at her first missed shot, this scene was so spot on to the book. The music, the camera work, Katniss's reaction... all of it was exactly what I wanted to see. And it was easily one of my favorites.

(+)Haymitch in the scores scene. Funny!

(-)Wish they'd have explained what those scores meant the way Katniss did in the book. Too happy about hers. 

(+)The addition of scenes with President Snow talking to Seneca Crane. These were a great insight into Snow and a really great way to flesh out these characters.

(+)Caesar Flickerman intro -- OMG. The faces in the background. HAHAHA!

(+)The crowd reaction being this roaring hum when Katniss comes onstage really plays into the movie feeling so close to her and so personal. Like when the music drowns out Effie in the car after the Reaping to show that Katniss and Peeta have tuned her out. 

(-)Though I wish the dress had been jeweled like in the book, I didn't mind the way they did the flames. I guess I understand why they did it this way, but I miss the jewels.

(+)Peeta's interview. Perfect.

(+)Katniss shaking during the last few moments before the games begin, with Cinna doing his best to keep her calm, was an incredible moment. I felt her fear.

(+)Transition to the light the way Katniss would see it as she enters the arena. 

(+)Seeing the Gamemaker's Control Room.

(+)Cut to Gale in silence during the countdown was fantastic.

(+)Music in bloodbath. Haunting. Bloodbath itself was done perfectly.

(+)Katniss mouthing the count of first fallen. Well done.

(+)Seeing the camera in the tree knot.

(+)The sci-fi "mechanics" of the Gamemakers was really neat.

(+)The camera work and smoke during the fire -- kept it personal feeling.

(+)Katniss treed by the Careers was well done.

(+)When she cuts down the hive I was so anxious for her, even more than I was in the book, because I could actually see how far along she'd sawed into the branch.

(-)I wish they'd have explained how the Tracker Jackers track whoever they think disturbed their nests. They say everything else, but it was important to why they mostly went after Glimmer and why they don't sting Katniss more when she drops from the tree. This was lost on the non-readers with our group.

(+)The Hallucination scene was my absolute favorite of the entire movie. It was so well done. From the jitter of the camera movements, to Caesar Flickerman talking about the Tracker Jackers while walking in the woods {hahaha} to the beautiful filling-in of backstory about Katniss's father and how her mother tuned out. The way Katniss begs her mother to snap out of it and say something was full of real emotion. Beautifully done.

(+)I absolutely love that Rue's 4-note trill they talk about in the book is used as the "main theme" of the Hunger Games in the same way that "Hedwig's Theme" is the iconic music associated with Harry Potter.

(+)Watching Cato flip out and snap that boy's neck after Katniss explodes the supplies. Whoa. Intense and scary.

(+)Seeing what Rue sees as Katniss sings her to "sleep." Beautiful.

(+)The face Rue makes when she asks Katniss to sing... so sad. But Perfect.

(+)At this point int he movie, I had let a few tears fall at the Reaping and the Rue scene... but when they cut to District 11 and the riots {a great setup for book 2, I thought} I completely lost it. I had tears just streaming down my face. I still don't know exactly why this particular scene was so powerful for me... maybe it was seeing what had to be Rue's dad make the first move. Or seeing the whole district return the salute Katniss gives them, but it was powerful. Fantastic. Another favorite scene.

(-)I wish she'd have said Peeta's name after the announcement like she does in the book.

(+)Love how she tracks Peeta like game and how well he hides.

(+)Nice pan to Gale in kissing scenes. Homage to the book and how Katniss's mind strayed to him in those moments. 

(+) Battle with Clove. Majorly intense.

(+)Berries scene: Katniss calling for Peeta really makes up for what I missed when she didn't call his name earlier. Her emotion here is exactly what it needed to be and it struck a cord. Very well done. Best show of emotion for her so far with Peeta.

(-)Wish Thresh had died a different way.

(+)That dog was supposed to be Cato! Scared the sh*t outta me.

(-)I miss the bloody X. It was by far Peeta's most badass moment in the book. It was good here but... it wasn't a bloody X.

(-)I wish they'd have drawn out the last scene and had the characters struggle a bit more internally with what they were about to face, having Katniss come to the decision to eat the berries just a bit slower. It felt rushed.

(+)Seneca. That room. That bowl. All I'm saying.

(-)Wish the crowd's reaction {ooh ahh awww} was more pronounced.

(-)Split the crowns, dammit!

(+)Snow's amazingly ominous ending.

In short, GO SEE THE MOVIE. The book is amazing and the movie brings it to life. No, it's not a duplicate of the book. But the movies never are. Details change. But overall, you will not be disappointed.

Due to zombie plague infection M's review is postponed. {But Alexis picked up the slack} Check back for her take later in the week along with news of her first "public appearance" as an "author".  *raises eyebrow*

Next week, we have that flash fiction we promised a couple weeks ago planned. But... you all know how our plans go. *grin*

Peas Out.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Author Interview: Diana Rowland

Today the Ninja Peas are pleased to welcome fabulously talented author Diana Rowland to the Pod! (She's our first official published author interview. How cool is that?) If you aren't familiar with Diana and her work--and why aren't you?!--you should be. In addition to being a former police officer, morgue tech, and all-around awesome person, she writes both the Kara Gillian and White Trash Zombies urban fantasy series. A couple of things you, dear reader, should know about Diana before we continue...

1. Before pounding the keyboard for a living, she was a bartender, a blackjack dealer, a pit boss, a street cop, a detective, a computer forensics specialist, a crime scene investigator, and a morgue assistant.
Author Diana Rowland

2. She won the marksmanship award in her Police Academy class and has a black belt in Hapkido.

What does all this mean? Well, frankly, it means she can calculate the best angle and trajectory from which to completely kick your ass in a state-approved manner, and then to show there are no hard feelings, she can mix up a great drink and deal you into a friendly game of blackjack...just don't get caught cheating.

Now that you know a little about the author, you need to know a little about her writing. For those who aren't familiar with these series, here are the cover copies and cover art for the first book in each series. More information can be found at Diana's website for subsequent books.

Book 1 of Kara Gillian series

When Homicide Detective Kara Gillian finds traces of arcane power on a body, she quickly realizes that this is no ordinary murder. The serial killer known as the Symbol Man is a nightmare that Beaulac, Louisiana thought had ended three years ago, but now he's back for an encore and leaving every indication on the flesh of his victims that he is well-versed in demonic lore.

However, Kara is a Summoner of Demons, and may be the only cop on the city's small force who can stop the killer. Able to see and interact with a world most people can't, Kara must draw on her skills as a police officer and master of the arcane to stop the Symbol Man from killing again and possibly summoning something even she can't control.

But with a demonic lord of unearthly beauty and power haunting her dreams, and a handsome yet disapproving FBI agent dogging her waking footsteps, she may be in way over her head....

Book 1 of White Trash Zombie series

Angel Crawford is a loser

Living with her alcoholic deadbeat dad in the swamps of southern Louisiana, she's a high school dropout with a pill habit and a criminal record who's been fired from more crap jobs than she can count. Now on probation for a felony, it seems that Angel will never pull herself out of the downward spiral her life has taken.

That is, until the day she wakes up in the ER after overdosing on painkillers. Angel remembers being in an horrible car crash, but she doesn't have a mark on her. To add to the weirdness, she receives an anonymous letter telling her there's a job waiting for her at the parish morgue--and that it's an offer she doesn't dare refuse.

Before she knows it she's dealing with a huge crush on a certain hunky deputy and a brand new addiction: an overpowering craving for brains. Plus, her morgue is filling up with the victims of a serial killer who decapitates his prey--just when she's hungriest!

Angel's going to have to grow up fast if she wants to keep this job and stay in one piece. Because if she doesn't, she's dead meat.


If you're a regular reader, you may remember that A, M, and I discussed cover art a few weeks ago. While our opinions were varied and strong, I thought it would be fun to get another author's perspective on the matter. My first thought was to grill--uh, interview Diana because, as you can see, she has truly mind-blowing covers. Here's what she had to say on the subject:

Jeannie: Readers may often decide which books they want to read based solely on the cover. As an author, how important is it you that the cover art reflect the story you've written?

Diana Rowland: Cover art can be a very touchy subject with both authors and readers. For my part, I would definitely push back if I had a cover that depicted the story or characters in a way that I felt was radically different from how I’d written them. However, I also believe that a cover’s primary purpose is to sell the book. To that end the cover should be eye-catching, attractive, and give the reader a solid sense of what sort of story this is, e.g. if there’s a spaceship on the cover, the expectation is that it’s some sort of science fiction. That being said, I don’t think that a cover needs to illustrate the book down to the slightest detail, and it’s more important that it capture the overall feel of the book. The woman on the cover of the White Trash Zombie books doesn’t look exactly how I’ve described Angel, yet somehow those paintings perfectly capture who she is. (And yes, I LOVE my cover artist, Dan Dos Santos!)

J: Series covers can change over time as characters change. However, you had the experience of changing publishers with your first series. Has the difference in covers affected the Kara Gillian series? What is some of the reader feedback you've gotten about the difference (if you can share)?

Book 4 of Kara Gillian series
DR: The change in covers hasn’t affected the story or writing of the series, of course, but I think it’s changed the marketing. DAW very much wanted this series to be marketed as urban fantasy (which it is!), whereas I feel that Bantam wanted it to be marketed more to the paranormal romance side of things. I’m more comfortable with it being marketed as urban fantasy, not because I have anything against paranormal romance at all, but because this isn’t paranormal romance, and I think those readers would have grown frustrated over time with the lack of a major romantic plotline.

That being said, yes, I would have liked for all of the books to match, but in the long run I do think that the newer covers reflect the true nature of the series much better. But, oh, the reader feedback!! The reactions have run the gamut from cautious approval to virulent hatred, but I think that if the series had started out with the Dos Santos covers no one would have batted an eyelash. The majority of the less-than-positive feedback has been because the series as a whole doesn’t match, and I can certainly respect that avid readers could be disappointed in that.

J: You have a new "white trash" zombie series which sports some spectacular artwork from Daniel Dos Santos. Can you tell us a little about how these covers were created? Is he given a description of Angel and a basic outline for each book?

DR: I am the luckiest author in the world because I actually get to talk to my cover artist! For both of the White Trash Zombie covers, I’ve had extended telephone conversations and email exchanges with Dan where we’ve discussed the overall themes of the books, possible scenes, her appearance in general as well as specifics of how rotten she could be. Dan always asks me if I have an idea for the cover, I tell him that I have zero visual artistic sense and go ahead and give him a sample scene idea, and then he (thankfully!) ignores my suggestion and paints something a thousand times better. :-D

J:  The cover for EVEN WHITE TRASH ZOMBIES GET THE BLUES is definitely "trashy" but in a good way. What was your initial reaction to seeing it?

Book 2 of White Trash Zombies series
DR: SO. MUCH. LOVE!!!  Seriously, this is the perfect example of a cover capturing the feel of a book. Funny thing is that Dan and I had this particular cover discussion while I was at a Chik-Fil-A with my daughter. She was playing in the climby-playground thing while I was on the phone with Dan merrily describing rotting body parts and gunshot wounds and grungy, nasty settings… It wasn’t until I hung up with him that I realized that a woman and her two small children had been sitting behind me that whole time. Oops!

J: In addition to being an author, I know you're an avid reader. What are some of your favorite books covers, past and present? How important is the cover to you as a reader when choosing a book?

DR: A cover that’s obviously cheap or a bad photoshop job will turn me off of a book, simply because I tend to think that a sloppy cover will likely mean a sloppy book as well. (And, yes, I know this isn’t universally true.) I’m certainly drawn to covers that are striking (in a good way) or exceptionally creative or attractive, but beyond that I tend to use cover art as a guide to genre, and will gravitate toward the “look” that I’m in the mood for at that time.

Some of my favorite covers include the Jane True books by Nicole Peeler, and The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, simply because they both have cover art that is interesting and striking, that perfectly conveys the tone and concept of the books.

J:  And now for every author's favorite question: What's next for Diana Rowland?

DR: I’ll be starting White Trash Zombie Apocalypse fairly soon, and at this time it looks as if that will be the end of that series. I have some other possible projects on tap, but nothing solid yet.

But, for the Kara Gillian fans, I can tell you that I’ll be working hard on the Demon series for a few more years. After all, there’s still a ways to go to finish up that whole story. We’re just now getting to the really good stuff!

J: Awesome insights, Diana! Thanks for hanging out with us. :-)

That's all, folks. Be sure to come back next week when we dish on...*drumroll*...The Hunger Games: Book vs. Movie! Until then...

Peas out.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Book Review: Warm Bodies

I have the Pod to myself this week. *drops buckets of black paint* A is feverishly working to polish her manuscript. (Go, A!) M is off celebrating 15 years of wedded bliss. (Congrats!) Unfortunately this means flash fiction has been postponed, but here's a book I think our dear readers will enjoy...and don't mind me...I'll just be over here...with some busy work. *grins and picks up paint brush*

WARM BODIES by Isaac Marion

Synopsis: R is a young man with an existential crisis—he is a zombie. He shuffles through an America destroyed by war, social collapse, and the mindless hunger of his undead comrades, but he craves something more than blood and brains. He can speak just a few grunted syllables, but his inner life is deep, full of wonder and longing. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he has dreams.
Review copy purchased at Barnes & Noble.

After experiencing a teenage boy's memories while consuming his brain, R makes an unexpected choice that begins a tense, awkward, and strangely sweet relationship with the victim's human girlfriend. Julie is a blast of color in the otherwise dreary and gray landscape that surrounds R. His decision to protect her will transform not only R, but his fellow Dead, and perhaps their whole lifeless world.

Scary, funny, and surprisingly poignant, Warm Bodies is about being alive, being dead, and the blurry line in between.

First lines: "I am dead, but it's not so bad. I've learned to live with it."

J's Thoughts: I have a few criteria for picking up books in a store: 1) eye-catching cover art, 2) intriguing cover copy, 3) a killer first line. WARM BODIES has all three. Add an author bio sporting the phrase "first novel" and a tag line reading "Soon to be a major motion picture," and I was sold.

It's no secret that zombies are low on my dark fantasy/horror list of favorite creatures. In fact, they're number two on my list of Irrational Fears. (Spiders and bad weather tie for the number one spot.) Even though WARM BODIES seduced me by meeting my bookstore criteria, I was sceptical that I'd enjoy -- much less identify with -- a first person zombie story. However, Isaac Marion proved me wrong because I loved every page.

R is a completely sympathetic character. Zombies are normally portrayed as mindless brutes hellbent on their own survival. But Marion shows the "life" of zombies outside the hunt for brains. When not riding the escalators or hanging out with his best friend M, R tries not to draw the attention of the Boneys, skeletal beings who sit firmly at the top of the Undead food chain. Unfortunately for R, he's in the middle of an mid-death crisis that only worsens when he meets Julie.

Julie, a Living girl, fascinates R and he fascinates her. They soon develop a unique relationship that's centered around brains. Julie, however, doesn't know that the brain in question is that of her former boyfriend, Perry. The mystery surrounding R's difference, and what it means, only deepens as he and Julie grow closer and struggle to find their way in a world ravaged by war and social decline.

Filled with humor, action, and thought-provoking narrative, WARM BODIES is only the second zombie book to find its way to my Keeper Shelf. (The first is PATIENT ZERO by Jonathan Maberry.) I loved the dark humor. I loved R's questioning but laid back nature. I loved Julie's free spirit and determination. But mostly I loved that this wasn't your average zombie book. Marion adds his own spin on the genre and does it with a lot of style. One particular bit of flair I enjoyed was the use to old medical diagrams for chapter headings instead of numbers. It's a small thing but it was a touch I found especially interesting.

If you're looking for a good read and a new twist to zombies, definitely check out WARM BODIES.

Join me next week when I interview Diana Rowland, author of the Kara Gillian and the White Trash Zombies series. Until then...

Peas out.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Guest Pod: Writer Blog by J. G. Walker

The Peas love talking about reading and books as much as (and sometimes more) than writing them. Delving into the topic of what books turn readers on and why we became readers is something we spend a lot of time thinking about and discussing. It's fascinating to learn the origins of how people we know come to reading and what compels them to pick up that next book. We asked our honorary pea, G (A.K.A.  J. G. Walker), to write a little about why he reads what he reads. Pull up a cushy corner of the pod and relax as he gives you his take.

I don’t remember learning how to read.
Well, you might say, maybe the process was traumatic enough that I somehow relegated it to the dark recesses of my mind. I should point out, though, that I absolutely remember learning how to swim, and that experience is one I’d gladly forget. No, I think the reason I don’t remember is learning to read is that it happened so early.

My mother was a budding kindergarten teacher when I was young, so that could help explain why reading came so early. My dad says I used to sound out the words on billboards when we took him to work at Fort Rucker, Alabama. I have no recollection of this, since I’d only have been about two or three at the time, but it seems likely, since I still have a compulsion for reading billboards today. Now I make stupid jokes about them, of course.

Whatever its origins, reading became enough of a reflex for me that not much in the way of books escaped my attention. As I got taller, I grew more selective, out of necessity more so than anything else. There was only so much time, after all, and lending libraries then weren’t what they are today. I didn’t read much mainstream fiction or non-fiction as a kid, either, having decided in my ultimate wisdom that it was too ordinary (Spoiler alert: I got better).

What I would read, however, was anything out of the ordinary --science fiction, horror, fantasy--and if I found someone I liked, I’d devote myself to slavishly devouring that author’s entire canon. (It’s also worth noting that this was also when I discovered I was quite the night owl.) Isaac Asimov, Madeleine L’Engle, Robert A. Heinlein, Ursula K. Le Guin--these and many more writers succumbed to many late-night reading binges.

Later, high school came along, and I moved on to slightly darker fare. Stephen King, Anne Rice, H.P. Lovecraft, Dean Koontz, and Clive Barker were my go-to scribes in those days. The classics? Not so much. I was still a snob, and the thought that I would eventually go on to get three degrees in English would have rendered me downright apoplectic.
One day, however, I read a book that would change my life. It was the first mainstream, perhaps even Literary-with-a-capital-‘L’-novel, I’d read that had such a drastic effect on me. Yes, it was ‘realistic,’ in the sense that it was about normal people living plausible lives in an authentic world, but it was nothing even approaching ordinary. The book was John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meaney, and it’s still one of my favorite novels. It also has the distinction of being the work that made me want to become a writer and give up the idea forever, both at the same time. It was that good.

This caused a drastic shift in my perspective. Maybe, I reasoned, some of those classics and other mainstream novels I’d snubbed were worth a try as well. And they were. My horizons broadened, new genres opened themselves to me, and I realized there was no way in hell I’d ever be able to read everything I wanted. There are worse problems to have, I know.

But what about my exacting, snobby standards? The truth is they remained the same. The only change that occurred was the new realization that when looking for new things to read, I now had a lot more places to search.

What do I read now? That’s pretty simple. It should be something new, it should be interesting, and the author should be attempting to tell a unique story. That’s really all there is to it. Oh, and it should be well-written, but that sort of lines up with the uniqueness.

If a story tells me something I don’t already know, or even if it tells me something I’m familiar with but does so in a new and unique way, I’m on it. There are only so many tales, as the saying goes, the trick being to tell them in new ways. It may be fiction, non-fiction, horror, humor, fan-fiction, dark or light.

Whether a story is about a borderline-sociopathic Victorian detective, a kid with a wrecked voice, a pair of comic book creators living in New York City in the 1940s, a vampire (okay, maybe not a sparkly one, but that’s just me), a time-traveling World War II soldier, people climbing Mount Everest, an orphaned boy wizard, a haunted hotel, or a possessed Plymouth Fury, if it’s exceptional in some way, then it’s up my alley.

And the story doesn’t have to be set in a far-flung galactic empire, an alternate history, or be populated by furry critters, geometric shapes, or homicidal telepaths, either. Although those can be pretty nifty, too.

J.G. Walker is a writer, editor, and writing coach who lives with his wife in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His fiction and nonfiction have been featured in such publications as Oracle Fine Arts Review, Lullwater Review, and Aoife’s Kiss. Walker is currently trying to create the impression that he is at work on his third novel, Visitation: A Novel of Death and Inconvenience. To find out more, check him out at or 

Next week, more impromptu flash fiction! We love to write it and you seem to love to read it. Let's hope you still feel the same after next Tuesday. Peas out.