Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: RED HILL by Jamie McGuire

Red Hill
Red Hill by Jamie McGuire
October 1, 2013
Simon and Schuster
368 pages
Genre: Adult Paranormal
(contains: violence, some mature themes, some sexual content)
Source: eARC from publisher for Honest review
(I also bought the signed limited edition hardcover)
Book Blurb:
For Scarlet, raising her two daughters alone means fighting for tomorrow is an everyday battle. Nathan has a wife, but can’t remember what it’s like to be in love; only his young daughter Zoe makes coming home worthwhile. Miranda’s biggest concern is whether her new VW Bug is big enough to carry her sister and their boyfriends on a weekend escape from college finals.

When reports of a widespread deadly “outbreak” begin to surface, these ordinary people face extraordinary circumstances and suddenly their fates are intertwined. Recognizing they can’t outrun the danger, Scarlet, Nathan, and Miranda desperately seek shelter at the same secluded ranch, Red Hill. Emotions run high while old and new relation-ships are tested in the face of a terrifying enemy— an enemy who no longer remembers what it’s like to be human.

Set against the backdrop of a brilliantly realized apocalyptic world, love somehow finds a way to survive. But what happens when the one you’d die for becomes the one who could destroy you?

My Review:

RED HILL is a well-written, attention-grabbing, action-packed, "zombie" apocalypse ride-for-your-life, filled with heartbreak and hope, romance and familial love, and felt like it could take place right outside my heavily-barricaded, shotgun-protected door.

I'm in no way a zombie expert. But I do love a good story, and RED HILL is the third zombie book or series I've read in the last month, so I was definitely in the zombie mindset when I started it. I am also a huge fan of Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire, so I had high hopes I would love this one, too. But knowing it was a different genre, I did not go into the read trying to compare RH with BD, and I suggest you don't either. They are completely different genres. But what was similar to both RH and BD was Jamie's writing, and the fact that she grabbed me and took me for a ride from the get-go, which is exactly how I felt when I read BD.

The book blurb summary is adequate enough to give you an idea of what this book is about. There has been an "outbreak," which quickly sweeps over the world spreading pandemonium wherever it goes. Time is of the essence, you only have the resources that are around you, and if you're not quick on your feet and use your head, you'll be dead. To me, the action and the storyline felt very current. Typically these stories feel like, well, stories. Stories told from the future or an alternative world, frequently with some supernatural element to them. RED HILL felt realistic, like it could happen today or tomorrow, particularly with its man-made infection. I was also impressed that Jamie could fit so much in a standalone. Typically, the zombie-type books I've read are a minimum three-book series, some more. For her to fit a complete story into one book, and not make it feel rushed, really impressed me.

Besides the story, the characters were a big draw for me. The use of three different POVs to tell the story really worked for me. This was particularly effective in seeing how everything came together, and Jamie seemed to bring things together brilliantly. There was also a wide range of other characters, diverse personality-wise more than racially, and outside of having a soldier in the mix, most weren't stuck in your typical category boxes. 

First we have Scarlet, divorced, single mom with two daughters. Like Scarlet, I work in a hospital, and I could completely imagine what was happening around her, and how alone I would feel being separated from my family, and surrounded by the sickest of the sick. Her deep love for her daughters was obvious, and her dilemma was heart-breaking. I may not have agreed with all the decisions she made, but her passion for her children was unquestionable. Scarlet is a fierce mama bear. She was also a very strong female character. It was refreshing to have a woman take charge and not feel like she had to rely on anyone else. But on the other hand, we also get to see her softer side as well, and how a certain someone gave her renewed hope. But can she truly find happiness in this new world if she can't have what she truly wants? 

Next we have Nathan, husband and father, in a crumbling marriage, trying to do the best he can for his daughter. I loved Nathan. Once again we see a parent who is fiercely protective of his child. And for once we have a guy who isn't some pushy know-it-all alpha male. Now, alpha males are super fun to read about, but not always necessary, and this was one perfect example. What I loved about Nathan's POV is that we get the flip-side of apocalyptic tragedy and what it meant for Nathan when he no longer had to live the life he had before.

Our final perspective is from Miranda, traveling with her sister and their boyfriends. Miranda was a mixed bag for me. I found her POV really interesting and the clues we're given early on about her make her later conflicts make sense. On one hand I was bothered by her actions, and on the other hand I felt awful about her situation and how stuck she was, no choice being a good choice. Here Jamie did a great job trying to put you into the head of someone whose issues were not an easy fix.

There was continuous action and suspense throughout most of the novel. I was gripped from the prologue and my heart felt like it was racing to the last page. There were heart-breaking moments of loss, and I got teary-eyed a few times. This wasn't an everyone-gets-out-alive story. There's death and despair and difficult decisions to be made. There are also some uncomfortable and horrible topics covered beyond the zombies, and unfortunately it was also realistic and relevant to our society, which made it all the more awful. But Jamie handled everything with care.

There is also romance, but I would not categorize it as heavily sexual (though there is some sex), just romantic, and more so in the second half. But what is predominant more than just romantic love is the love of family, particularly the love of a parent to a child (whether blood-related or not). The love of your child is a strong theme and makes the reader not only see what some of these characters would do for their children, but also cause the reader to question what choices and actions they would have made in a similar situation. I really admire Jamie making the love story in this book more than just the love between adults.

Bottomline: I loved RED HILL. It gripped me from the start and held on strong, combining the suspense and action of a "zombie" outbreak with a realistic and current setting, and characters demonstrating the different perspectives of what this situation would do to someone. If I didn't have kids to take care of, I would have read this in a day. And even with that, I finished it in two. I also loved the strong themes of perseverance, love, family, and hope amongst tragedy. Well done, Ms. McGuire!

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