My Haunted Library

All things spooky. Your source for paranormal and supernatural book and movie reviews, strangeography, Halloween crafts and a little cozy fall baking.


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Review: Under a Graveyard Sky

Under a Graveyard Sky—John Ringo, 2013. 3/5

When a zombie apocalypse destroys civilization, a family of extremely well-prepped survivalists takes to the seas in this first installment of Ringo’s Black Tide Rising series.

Steven John Smith, former Aussie para turned high school teacher, is ready for action when his brother Tom texts him a coded message indicating a bona-fide, world-ending emergency. Yep, zombies. Steven, his wife Stacey, and his daughters, fifteen-year old Sophia and thirteen-year-old Faith, load up their trailer with enough supplies to embarrass Costco and enough armament to invade Cuba. They stock their boat and set sail to avoid the crumbling infrastructure. Oh, and avoid exposure to the man-made pathogen that’s turning people into naked, ravening monsters. Once at sea, Steven makes it his personal mission to track down all the ships that are emitting emergency signals, clear off the zombies, save any survivors, salvage supplies, and add the ship to his growing flotilla of rescued and rescuers.

I loved the first third of this book: the CDC and international health organizations tracking and reverse-engineering the double-virus, the FBI searching for the villain who painstakingly released the disease, the inevitable breakdown of society. Ringo did a great job imagining the end of the world. I did need to suspend a lot of disbelief with the Smith family, however. For instance, high-school student Sophia is enlisted by Tom to assist a high-powered scientist in creating the first zombie vaccine. Because…she’s good at science?? While middle-schooler Faith is tougher, better trained, better armed, and more skilled than most military weapons instructors. Still, the first part of the book moves along, has lots of action, and maintains a sense of humor.

It’s when the family takes to sea that the story falls apart and I started wondering if the whole book wasn’t just a tongue-in-cheek romp. The zombies stop being scary, or even a real threat. Characters drop off the radar: Tom, corporate security head for the Banks of Americas disappears—in theory to his own safe retreat—and we lose a strong, interesting character. Ditto with Steven’s wife and Sophia, who remain in the background piloting various ships. It’s as if once in a while Ringo suddenly remembers, ‘oh yeah, the rest of the family,’ and resurrects them for a short scene. What we do have, is endless boarding and clearing of zombie-infested (but not really dangerous thanks to Faith) ships.

Now, I love survival horror. Action-adventure and all its subgenres: military action, military horror, thriller, and yes, girls with guns and swords. But the last couple hundred pages of Under a Graveyard Sky just get repetitive and annoying. Faith boards ships. Faith talks guns. Faith trains newbies. Faith blows zombies to smithereens—well, she does add variety by hacking many of them to smithereens—over and over. Assorted older males tell her if she were old enough, they’d propose. She could be a pin-up girl for Soldier of Fortune magazine. Um. At thirteen. And while I appreciate the detailed descriptions of ship boarding and the seamanship involved, as well as the challenges of avoiding ricochets while shooting monsters, a little goes a long way. What happened to the storyline?

So, I’m torn with this one. I was excited about the first third. Gleeful, really, that I’d landed on a great series. The latter half of the book ticked me off. No doubt there is action, but there’s not a lot of forward motion. If the next book is more ship clearing, and as Faith-foremost, I’m going to give it a pass.

rating system three crows


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Movie Review: Train to Busan

Train to Busan Directed by Sang-ho Yeon. Written by Joo-Suk Park and Sang-ho Yeon. Rating 5/5

What? A perfect rating for a movie about zombies on a train? Absolutely. And it’s coming from a person who’s a devoted fan of both.

I’ll watch any train movie from classic to campy: Silverstreak. The Cassandra Crossing. Breakheart Pass. The Midnight Meat Train

Same with zombie movies: Rec, Pontypool, Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Some are good. Some are bad. Some are great. Train to Busan is great.

When heard about Train to Busan I was excited, but also fearful that zombies on a train would fall into a mediocre slot at best. Boy, I was thrilled to be proven wrong: Train to Busan combines the absolute best of both genres. It is like an even more amped-up version of 28 Days Later meets Unstoppable.

The story is set and filmed in South Korea, with a South Korean cast. The version I watched was dubbed in English but don’t let that put you off. Any initial weirdness you may feel about the voice-overs vanishes almost immediately as you’re sucked into the story.

Seok-woo, (Gong-Yoo) is a young father and a stock trader who is a little too absorbed in his business. He neglects his little daughter Soo-an (soulfully played by Su-an Kim). Realizing he’s been a jerk, he gives into her birthday wishes to see her estranged mother in Busan. Together they board the train to Busan amidst ominous signs of unrest in the city around them.

Things go badly, bloodily wrong from there. A leak from a bio-research facility has resulted in violent, instantly reanimated, extremely fast zombies. The outbreak spreads rapidly through the country—and on board their train. Seok-woo and his daughter band together with a husband and his pregnant wife, a high-school baseball player and cheerleader, and a few other unfortunates. They battle for survival as the train barrels along to Busan.

Several things set this movie apart and above other train and zombie flicks. For train buffs: this film does some highly original, over-the-top train action that I’ve never seen before. I won’t give it away, except to say it ramps up in second half of film: I was electrified.

The same goes with the zombie action. I know you’re thinking, “ah, seen one fast zombie, seen ‘em all.” Not so. The film does some clever camera work: teasing you with things barely seen and hitting you with things very graphically seen that makes these zombies truly frightening. Equally frightening is the film’s creative use of the sheer overwhelming mass of zombie attackers. And, additional kudos: these zombies are deeply alarming without exorbitant makeup.

Finally, the acting is excellent. There are bona-fide tear-jerker moments. Out-loud “oh no!” moments. The father-daughter pair is heartwarmingly portrayed. There is even character growth—in a horror thriller! Nice.

Train to Busan is impressive. It screams along, leaving you feeling pumped-up and in a weirdly positive mood: kind of like you just survived the zombie apocalypse yourself. I watched it last night. I’m ready to watch it again. Don’t miss this one: you’re in for a great ride.

rating system five crows