Initial reaction: Curiosity got the best of me, and I was able to end up reading a copy of this from the library that's close to the university I live near.
This isn't going to be a long review, but I'll expound my thoughts about it in a bit of detail after meditating over it (I finished it several days ago and still trying to sort through thoughts about it.)
A few starting points to this review though:
1. I've learned Jamie McGuire can't write a book without slut shaming, whether it's directed towards men or women. Seriously, it's pretty ridiculous, but I've come to expect it in all the narratives I've picked up from her. But that's not why this is a 1-star read (or less). There were more than a few issues with the narrative not just in thematic, but with the science and procedural details as well, so the bad science in "Apolonia" was not a one-off occurrence.
2. If you have to make a lot of references in your narrative justifying a character's actions/reactions based on what happens "in the movies" - that's lazy writing. Show what your characters do in the heat of the moment, don't defer to "zombie movies" or things like that in pop culture to justify or illuminate things in your novels, because that doesn't always work, and when you're constantly doing it - it shows. In this, it was too much.
I'll have more to come in this review later on. First have to work on a few other reviews for reads that I enjoyed far better than this one. But I can say I took one for the team again, I guess. Some part of me thought I'd be wrong about how McGuire chose to write a zombie novel, but in the end, that wasn't the case.
Short and sweet review, as promised.
So, I took a risk and picked up "Red Hill" because I conveniently saw it at my library and thought "Why not?" (Drive by read, huzzah! But I'd picked up some other books from the library in the meantime, so it was an impulse decision.) For the record, I do enjoy zombie novels. I've enjoyed movies and TV series featuring zombies (*cough* The Walking Dead - even if I'm massively behind watching that *cough*). This is technically the third paranormal novel I've read from Jamie McGuire. ("Providence" - angels, "Apolonia" - aliens, "Red Hill" - zombies.) Angel novels and alien novels have tended to be hit and miss with me for thematic, but zombies? I haven't read many books with zombies I haven't liked.
That streak was broken with this book, but I expected that. I'm convinced that McGuire just doesn't do sci-fi/paranormal/romance very well. Even with the potential for different explorations and expansions, it's still cut from the same cloth and problems as her other narratives. I just haven't really seen any author who's failed to get out of the same niche and offenses in just about every narrative they've written.
This book trades between the perspectives of Nathan, Scarlet, and Miranda. Nathan's a man with a broken family (wife leaves him, purportedly suffers from depression), Miranda's a health worker trying to reunite with her family, especially her two daughters, and Miranda's a teenager concerned about exams. At least this is the situation before the world descends into chaos.
The worldbuilding in this book does not make a whole lot of sense. I had to suspend a lot of disbelief for the situation with numerous contradictions and things that health care workers would never do as far as Blood Borne Pathogen training is concerned. (I should know, I was trained in that. *frowns*) There would be so many other things to consider in the outbreak as well, but considering this was a factor that was the set up or the story, I looked past it.
Characters weren't really developed past their template construction or set motivations. Plus the genre cliche reared its ugly head here, for both NA and zombie media considerations. Granted, Nathan's wife left him and their daughter Zoe behind, but Nathan spares no time calling his a wife a "bitch" to which he follows up with expansions that she suffered from depression. Scarlet slut shames her husband all the while talking about her "babies" (I promise you, between Nathan and Scarlet - they used the word "baby" or "babies" more times than in a Justin Bieber song. I understood that it was a term of endearment for their children, but the repetition was very annoying - and what are the chances that they would use the same term of endearment for their kids that often - it made me feel like the character voices ran together too much).
Yet those conflicts were a part of the vehicle that ultimately served Nathan and Scarlet's relationship later on. It felt too convenient and the insta-love didn't help matters much. Don't get me started with Miranda. I think Miranda's character was very shallow in presentation, and the purported love triangle/jealousy factor didn't work for me. Neither did a certain character dying like it was an afterthought. It was telegraphed by another character and conveniently after a tense scene where the dead character just so happened to try to hurt the sentiments of the speaking character. Oy vey.
The narrative dictation was ultimately tedious and boring in many places, the repetition not helping, contributing to the downfall of what could've been decent scenes. McGuire doesn't know how to show these details, particularly when it comes to character motivation. There's a balance to be had there. When the action scenes came, some of it was okay (one of the scenes where Nathan's daughter was in peril and which ended up in the sacrifice of a major character was actually done well), but then it would be followed by things that would undercut said scenes of tension. Which for the love of holy - I didn't understand. You have a scene that stands okay by itself for showing, why would you undermine that by repeating the information and shortchanging it by trying to tell your audience what they should think about it via the character's mouth?
Sense this does not make.
Repetition and assumption was a big problem in this narrative. Between certain turns of wording, between the narrative constantly changing its reference to what "zombies" are in this novel (It wasn't fun to keep up with, and certainly not cute), and even making the characters somehow zombie fighting experts by having them rely on portrayals of what they've seen "in the movies?" And constantly referring back to that particular factor in the narrative?
That's lazy writing, people. Seriously, that is lazy writing.
*sighs* But I digress. Very little, if anything worked for me in this read and it felt tedious to get through. Long story short, the worldbuilding in this was threadbare and inconsistent (and quite unresearched), the characters felt pale and forced to convenient plot points and telegraphed motivations (save for maybe a few points where it lent to interesting scenarios, but were ultimately one-off events), the romance was undeveloped and too quick, the action sequences, knowledge and tensions trying to rely too much on other zombie survival media, and it all felt very "Hollow-wood" to say the least.
I can't recommend it.
Overall score: 1/5 stars