Random Saturdays – Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise

FULL DISCLOSURE – Jack and I are blogging buddies.  He gave me an advanced review copy of his eBook, but did not pay me or beat me into the agreement to review the book.  He requested only that I read the book and give an honest opinion of it during the week of its release.  I agreed because I wanted to read the book before everyone else.  Suckers!

Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise will be released on Tuesday, October 20th.  This is the third book in a series written by my buddy, Jack Flacco.  I will say right now that this book made me cry.

Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise

Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise

From reading the previous books, I’m fond of Ranger and his rag tag group of kids.  I call them kids, but by the third book, even Jon, the youngest, has lost all traces of childhood.  I guess you have to grow up pretty quickly during the Zombie Apocalypse.  I wouldn’t know, having never been through one and intending to kill myself immediately upon hearing of at least five dead people who are eating living people.

In this book, Ranger and his crew hear about a place called Paradise where he and the kids might finally be able to live in a world without 24 x 7 adrenaline battles.  Could it be too good to be true?  Before they could figure that out, they’d have to get to Paradise, and travelling anywhere in the Zombie Apocalypse is a trying task.  They meet new people and run into old allies along the way.

As with the others, the book starts out in media res, so it’s hard to get a grip on what’s going on at first.  I assume that’s intended by the author to make the reader as disoriented as the characters must be.    When Ranger’s group stumbles upon another group, they seem to grow close quickly.  There’s a reason, but it was still a bit too quick for me.  It felt like that part of the movie where you see something happen quickly with one line as an explanation and you yell at the screen, “Oh, the book goes into it much more than that!”  Moving through the story, there are some flashbacks that explain a bit more of Ranger’s past than before, which was nice.  Although, I’m not sure that it moved the story forward much at this point.  When the group decides to set out for Paradise, the real action starts.  Jack excels at, “Woo!  That was close!  Oh crap, it’s not over yet?!?!” moments.  It’s quite a battle to get to Paradise, but when I saw how many pages were left before the group could get into Paradise, I knew that I wouldn’t be enjoying a peaceful ending any time soon.

If you like your endings tied up in a pretty package, then you will hate the end of this book.  Initially, I was mad, wondering if there were going to be more books even though this was supposed to be a trilogy.  Then, I let it settle in and came to accept the ending as fitting to the zombie genre in general.  Good zombie books and movies do not have pretty endings.  They always leave you with questions and they always leave you wanting more.  For Ranger Martin and his group of adolescent comrades, it would be unfitting to have the group live happily ever after.  Overall, I’m pleased with the series and this was a pretty exciting read.

I will admit that there are some misspellings and poor grammar sprinkled throughout the book.  Jack wrote and published the book himself, so it’s hard to get everything as sparkling clean as expensive publishing houses require.  Even then, a certain red-headed wizard in a very well-known book series was referred to by the name of the actor who played him in the movie, rather than the book character’s name.  I have read some other self-published works that were just too painful to slog through at all, no matter how much I wanted to like the book or how free the book was.  If’ you’re unsure, go ahead and read the first chapter on Jack’s site.  Then, buy the book.  It’s a relatively quick and easy read that will keep you engaged and excited.  I’m grateful that Jack gave me the opportunity to read and review the book in advance.  I’m still waiting to see how he tackles leprechauns and unicorns, though.

Pimp It Friday – Ranger Martin and The Alien Invasion

FULL DISCLOSURE – Jack and I are blogging buddies.  He gave me an advanced review copy of his eBook, but did not pay me or beat me into the agreement to review the book.  He requested only that I read the book and give an honest opinion of it during the week of its release.  I agreed because, hey, I wanted to read the book before everyone else.  Duh.

Since I am not currently the voracious reader that I once was, I have not gotten around to reading Jack Flacco‘s first book, Ranger Martin and The Zombie Apocalypse.  It’s on my Amazon Wishlist, but I’m slooooooowly working my way through a stack of books on my bookshelf right now and have not made it to any new Wishlist items yet.  Having read the sequel to Zombie Apocalypse, I now need to go back and read the first one.

Ranger Martin and the Zombie Apocalypse

As a fan of Jack’s blog, I was curious about his literary style and how it would carry over to fiction.  Turns out, his blogging style is quite different from his fictional writing style, which is a good thing.  Having not read the first book, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on at the start of this one.  The action was so quick, that I got into the moment, though.  After a few chapters, I kind of picked up the vibe of the characters and assumed some history between some of them.  I think the story could have used a page or two summarizing the history between the characters the way many series do, but there was enough action that I didn’t really worry about knowing the characters very well until I already got to know them.

Reading the story actually reminded me of a [do not click on the following link if you do not like spoilers] post that Jack had awhile back.  I’m not sure if the post provided the idea for this book or if this was Jack’s sneaky way of feeling out his readers’ thoughts on his writing subject beforehand.  Either way, Ranger Martin and The Alien Invasion is an exciting read.  The story picks up where Zombie Apocalypse left off – right in the middle of a zombie mob attacking Ranger Martin.  Ranger, Randy, Matty, Jon, and others continue to battle zombie filth while uncovering an alien invasion that is set to wipe out mankind, or rather, have us wipe out ourselves.

It’s hard to tell who to root for and who the real enemies are in the story.  As soon as you pick a side, that side either dies or does something that you  find morally questionable.  When you decide that you don’t like a character, that character shows a hint of a redeemable quality that makes you wonder from where the character’s motives really stem.  Then again, life isn’t black and white.  So, I can’t imagine that zombie apocalypses and alien invasions would make things any easier.  In general, you do get a sense of good vs bad, but I like that the characters aren’t completely flat.  Part of that is due to the age of the main characters.  Imagine figuring out who you are and what your place in the world is when the world is coming to an end.  The forces they are up against are much older, wiser, and more powerful than them in multiple ways.  I really don’t know how I would handle  dealing with some snotty teenager if aliens were taking over the world.

It’s less than 300 pages and the pace of the book makes it a relatively quick read.  This is an excellent book for long flights and long weekends.  The action is steady, the story is fun, and there are some surprising twists to keep readers eager for more.  I look forward to seeing how Jack tackles other subjects like unicorns and leprechauns!

Sunday Reading List

I had so much fun using my own blog as an excuse to read other blogs that I decided to make the Sunday Reading List a regular feature. Here are some of my favorite posts and internet bits from the past week.

Jack Flacco – The Walking Dead: Lessons Learned
He has the best comeback I’ve ever heard for people who claim to not be interested in zombies.

NPR – Dishwasher Cooking: Make Your Dinner While Cleaning The Plates
I’ve wondered about this before, and thought I was just crazy. This doesn’t prove me wrong, but I really have to try this now.

Gabriel Mendez – Charlie’s
My friends are opening a sandwich shop. Whut whut!

Bitches Gotta Eat – i’m a virgin again, according to science.
Don’t read this if alot of cussing and explicit explanations about the human body and/or sex bothers you. If those things don’t bother you, though, prepare to laugh. So much. Like, really, alot.

Happy Sunday!

Random Saturdays – The Other Side of the Bridge

Last Sunday was Easter.  The Friday beforehand, I hung out with Amanda, as usual.  We talked about Easter, which naturally led to the discussion of Jesus being a zombie.  As we drove around the same parts of Dallas that we always do, we talked about various types of zombies and how we’d react if we encountered them.  Then, we noticed it was eerily dead for 10 pm on a Friday night.  Granted, we didn’t expect much to happen on the side streets, but the major streets weren’t even busy.  These are the very streets that take people to and from bars and clubs, so there are usually a few cars on them on Friday nights.  This Friday night, however, there were none.  We wondered if there were some kind of Zombie Apocalypse to which we were not privy.

Strangely enough, we saw more people wandering the neighborhoods on foot after 11 pm than we saw cars all night long.  Every side street we turned down had people running, walking their dogs, or just standing around.  In fact, we didn’t just see individuals, or even couples;  there were groups of people wandering around numerous neighborhoods.  People of all ages just walked around these neighborhoods all night long.  Months ago, we made a joke about a crosswalk sign designating a “Wild People Crossing”.  Recalling that sign, we wondered why there were so few cars out and so many wild people wandering the streets.  We chalked it up to zombies and went about our business.

At one point, we ended up in an old part of Dallas, driving down streets we had never been down before.  For anyone who doesn’t know, older parts of Dallas consist of a maze of one-way streets and dead ends.  While exploring one of these streets, we saw a few houses that were in complete disrepair, which led us to a street that seemingly dead-ended at a giant fence.  On the other side of the fence were rows upon rows of discarded bleachers, plastic Longhorn cattle, and whimsical plastic trees.  We both made some profanity-laden comments of wonder and surprise as we slowly drove closer to the objects and realized that we were not imagining this strange graveyard of discarded props.  To our right was an old, low, narrow, cement bridge.  We drove beneath it to find out what was on the other side.

Once there, we found more discarded props.  I suggested that this was the storage place for props used during the State Fair of Texas.  Amanda has never been to the State Fair of Texas even though she was born in, and grew up in, Dallas.  (She also never had a Girl Scout Cookie until this year.  Who knew?)  While I felt comforted that I at least knew the origins of the numerous rows of out of place fair props, Amanda seemed unnerved.  However, we were both still curious, so we continued down the road, pivoting our heads, trying to take in the surreal sights of abandoned ticket booths and rides.  The tiny road with narrow turns suddenly opened onto an expanse of cement with nothing but the Props Graveyard surrounding us on both sides.  We came to a small opening in a fence and Amanda said, “I wonder what’s through here…” as she drove onto a larger road.  We continued driving and were eventually greeted by a giant overpass telling us to “EXIT”.  Arrows directed us to drive under the words in order to exit, but as there were two exit paths, we had to choose one.

We chose the one on the right.

This led to an even wider expanse of cement with no Props Graveyard in sight.  I figured out that this was where the main State Fair parking always is during the fall, but again, this didn’t comfort Amanda at all.  The parking lot was divided down the middle by a train track, enclosed in a wire fence.  We decided to turn around and go back.  After driving past the Props Graveyard, we didn’t know where we were.  I recognized another parking area for the State Fair that is normally open, but was now closed.  Because everything was closed for the year, it was confusing trying to exit places barred with chain fences.  I saw familiar streets all around, but couldn’t figure out how to get to any of them without busting through a fence or off-roading it in Amanda’s Honda Civic.

Lest you think us complete fools, I did look up our location on my iPhone.  This, however, only confirmed our options about fences and off-roading.  Amanda kept driving back and forth along the expansive cement parking lot, growing increasingly desperate with each pass.  Amanda isn’t someone who spooks easily because she has been through quite a bit in life.  She didn’t have the sense of surreal familiarity that I had with the fair grounds, though, since she had never been to this part of Fair Park before.

Big Tex’s skeleton after he caught fire this year. The State Fair mascot had just turned 60.  Prelude of zombie shenanigans to come?

I kept pointing out areas that led to exits during the State Fair, but each one dead-ended.  Eventually, we found ourselves on the dead end behind a residential neighborhood, with no way to cross to the neighborhood streets.  Four or five dogs began racing towards us, barking at the tops of their lungs.  “Oh great,” I said, worried that she would run over an overly-excited dog.  “This is it.  This is how it’s going to end,” said Amanda, convinced that we were going to run out of gas and that the zombie dogs would eat us.  I told her that I had plenty of battery power on my phone and that we would be fine.  Why the hell else did I pay money for a data plan on a phone with GPS?  Ironically, we kept driving past a slew of police cars that were clearly not being used and were on the other side of the fence anyway.

Finally, we decided to drive along the fence.  We got into this crazy Parking Lot Desert somehow, so we just had to find the opening again.  Amanda put her bright lights on and we drove slowly, searching for the opening.  As we neared the end of the fence, our faces plastered to the front window, high beams shining out into the distance, we saw it — the opening.

It was ingenius really, drawing attention from the missing part of the fence by chaining up the parts around it, whcih distracted Amanda and me from seeing the other side.  To tell you about it, it sounds dumb.  How could we miss the opening?  Wouldn’t we have just noticed that the light didn’t reflect off the metal?  Wouldn’t we just see that there is fence and then there isn’t any?  These are questions that would only come from someone who has never driven through old parts of Dallas and has never been to Fair Park.  It’s tricksies.  The fence doesn’t go in a straight line;  it randomly bends and turns upon itself for no apparent reason.  This is how things work in that part of Dallas.

We exited our Cement Desert and found our way back to the run down houses where we started (a few druggies were now standing outside of the dilapidated buildings).  We drove back to the Props Graveyard, The Bridge, The Exit signs, the Cement Desert, and, finally, our opening in the fence.  Now that we knew our way around this strange wonderland, we were relieved to have made it out without running out of gas or being bit by zombie dogs.

On the way back to Amanda’s apartment, we saw numerous people walking their dogs, even though it was nearly 1 am.  On my drive home from Amanda’s, I saw five more people walking around streets and highways where I do not normally see much foot traffic. When the time comes (that’s right, when, not if), I hope all of these wild people and their dogs are ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.  Amanda and I certainly are.

Random Saturdays – Men and Their Crappy Health

My dad started complaining about this thing poking out of his belly button over seven years ago.  “It hurts and it pops out, so I have to push it back in,” is how he described it.  You’d see his face in pain and he’d rub his beer belly like a pregnant woman rubs her tummy.  I don’t remember exactly how, but he found out it was a hernia, and then did nothing about it.  At one point, the neighbor across the alley told my dad that he had the same problem and it’s a simple outpatient surgery.  I volunteered to take time off to drive my dad to and from appointments, take care of him while he recuperated, whatever he needed.  He just had to make the phone calls.  He claimed to have made them, but always had excuses for why the doctors were jerks who didn’t have time for him.

Cut to last summer when my step-mom finally made an appointment for my dad to see a doctor because the hernia caused my dad so much pain.  Before my dad made it to the appointment, I got a call from the ER.  My step-mom called an ambulance because my dad was in excruciating pain.  The doctor there gave my dad some pain pills and sent him home since my dad was due for surgery a few days later.  It was supposed to be outpatient surgery, but the surgeon saw, in medical terms, “a hot mess”.  The hernia had morphed into diverticulitis and perforations in the colon, which required a colostomy.

Even after all this, my friend, Cathy’s, boyfriend has a hernia and put off seeing a doctor for months.  Seriously???  Men – why do you hate being healthy?!  Why do you people do this?  Why do you wait and wait and wait to see the doctor?  Is it because you enjoy hearing the doctor say things like, “From a medical standpoint, you’re officially dead.”  Does it have something to do with zombie fantasies?

A slightly more whimsical metaphor for a man's festering gut

A slightly more whimsical metaphor for a man’s festering gut

I like my doctor, but I don’t like seeing her.  I see her because I have to for my health.  Taking care of your health is like doing yard work.  The longer you wait to take care of it, the worse it’s going to be.  If you wait too long, you’ll be forced to let others take care of it, at which point, they might have to chop down the big shade tree in your front yard because it’s diseased because you didn’t keep the pests away from it, so now you’ll be without shade and you have a gaping hole in your hard.  Good going men!  Hope you enjoy your crappy health and your ugly yard!