Book Review & Guest Post — Donners of the Dead by Karina Halle

Book Review & Guest Post — Donners of the Dead by Karina Halle

Donners of the Dead by Karina HalleJake McGraw was unlike anyone I’d ever known. He was brash, rude, unapologetic and arrogant; chauvinistic, close-minded, and terribly stubborn. He was built like a tree, tall with a hard chest and wide shoulders and hands that looked like they could wrestle a bear. He was a cigar-chomping, scruffy-faced, beast of a man. I was pretty sure I hated him. And I know he hated me. But among the flesh-eating monsters in these snow-capped mountains, he was the only thing keeping me alive The year is 1851 and pioneers in search of California gold are still afraid to travel on the same route as the tragic Donner party did years before. When the last wagon train to go into the Sierra Nevada mountains fails to arrive at their destination, Eve Smith, an 18-year old half-native girl with immense tracking skills is brought along with the search party, headed by an enigmatic former Texas Ranger, Jake McGraw. What they find deep in the dangerous snow-covered terrain is a terrifying consequence of cannibalism, giving new meaning to the term “monster.” While the search party is slowly picked off, one by one, Eve must learn to trust Jake, who harbors more than a few secrets of his own, in order to survive and prevent the monstrosities from reaching civilization.

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Karina Halle does not shy away from writing books that go against the grain.  She writes unique, distinctive works that leave me and thousands of other readers coming back to her novels time and time again.  Just for one day I’d like to live inside her brain just to see what kinds of creepy and exciting things are stored up there. I was intrigued to read this book for its historical tie-in to the famous Donner party story.  In the mid-1800’s, a group of pioneers got trapped in the harsh, snowy conditions of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Out of pure desperation and starvation, they resort to eating those who had passed.  Halle puts her own sexy and scary spin on the true tale, adding in zombies.

After her father mysteriously disappears and is presumed dead, Eve Smith and her mute mother move in with her uncle and his family on his farm.  Born to a Native American father and a white mother, Eve isn’t offered the same basic rights that white people get, like a chance to go to school or even respect.  To earn her keep, she works alongside her best friend and fellow ranch hand, Avery, whom she secretly desires.  Her comfortable and safe world is shattered when a search party wanders  onto Uncle Pat’s farm.  Hungry and tired, this group of strangers are looking for a tracker by the name of Eve Smith. When Uncle Pat hears of the monetary reward, he orders Eve, Avery and god-fear Donna to join the search party on their venture into the harsh wintry condition.  But what lurks in the cold, bleak forest is not what any of them expected.

” The air around us smelled like sorrow.”

Eve isn’t like other girls in her time, wearing dainty dressing, fainting, and sewing doilies.  For living such a sheltered life, Eve was extremely brave and lionhearted.  She was thrown into the fire, so to speak, when her uncle compelled her to be the “tracker” for these group of strange men.  She was clearly apprehensive and fearful about going — for one because she lacked the expert tracking skills these men hired her for — but she didn’t let that show on the outside.  I found her to be a very resilient young woman. Perhaps her outward display of strength was a means to prove her worth to her uncle, win over Avery’s affections, or just to see what’s outside the confines of the farm.  In any event, I can’t say that I could show the same bravado in such circumstances.

Among the search party was Tim, an old man who seemed to be running the show. Out of the lot, he was the most talkative and was the nicest to Eve, Avery, and Donna.  There is also Isaac, who’s the nephew of the man the search party is looking for.  Then there’s Hank, whose shifty eyes and piercing stares gave me (and Eve) the creeps.  We have Meeks, who was a jolly character along for the ride  he was the pocketbook of the expedition.  Lastly, we have Jake McGraw, former Texas Ranger and all-around cowboy badass.

Jake is one hundred percent 1851 American man.  The guy is a jack of all trades and is clearly the one that holds the group together.  He is the strong protector, hunter, and cook.  His attitude towards Eve wasn’t exactly friendly, which in all honesty I loved.  His and Eve’s conversations were full of passion and I don’t mean passionate love. No, this was a meet hate.

“I think I’ve had just about enough of you,” I told him as I started to leave. “Oh darlin’. You’ll never get enough of me, I promise you that.” 

His clear prejudice towards Eve led him to call her “Pine Nut,” which only fired Eve up more.  Jake could easily be construed as a chauvinist pig based on some of his comments and behavior, but it’s important to remember that his is a historical novel.  What was acceptable, and even normal, back then isn’t the status quo today.  Throughout the novel, his opinions change.

There was something so wonderfully solid about the gesture, the feeling of him behind me, that it made me momentarily forget who this was. He may have just “saved” me but it was still Indian-hating Jake McGraw and we mixed about as well as oil and vinegar.

Eve and Jake learn to lean on each and trust each other while those around them are picked off one by one by the mysterious pale monsters.  As the danger around them grew, so did faith in each other.  While the time-span in this novel is long, their relationship did not feel like it there was instant attraction and instant love.  Halle did a good job at building the underlying foundation of trust and friendship between them.  Jake opens up to Eve and explains why he is the way he is.

I think I liked it. I liked this kind of fear. It was doing curious things to my insides, putting me through a beautiful sort of pain that was so very foreign to me. “Because,” he went on with a gruff voice that warmed my stomach, “the longer you touch me, the more scared I get.”

Jake’s conversion of prejudice into affection was one of the things I liked most about Donners of the Dead.  I really liked that this testosterone-driven, gruff, harsh, strong man had a soft and needy side.

“My innocence is gone. But whatever I do have left, I want you to have it.”

Halle has ruined all bathrooms for me after reading her Experiment in Terror series.  She has also ruined all outhouses for me.  Not that I would ever use one, but still.  She builds fear and suspense in Donners in a way only she can.  Halle had me on the edge of my seat and looking over my shoulder.  With Jake and Eve braving the elements and the mysterious human eaters coming out of nowhere, I had no idea how the duo was going to get out of the mountains alive and with all of their limbs intact.

I am a zombie book novice.  Aside from reading Warm Bodies, I haven’t read any zombie novels.  In fact, the horror genre is quite foreign to me.  Admittedly, zombie horror novels are not at the top of my to-read list, but maybe they should be because I really, really  enjoyed Donners of the Dead.  This standalone is a quick and thrilling read that is a great intro into zombie fiction for novices like me.

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3 stars

* I received an advance copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. 


What’s on Karina Halle’s Bookshelf?

Ah, an inside look at my never-ending TBR list. Well, to be honest with you, I have a shelf full of books that I am dying to read, I mean hundreds of hardcovers and paperbacks, and usually I just stare at the spines until one speaks to me and I pull it out and start reading. Then I have my thousands of books on Kindle waiting to be read as well. I wish I could say there was some method to my madness when selecting books but instead it fully depends on my mood. I tend to avoid books with a lot of hype and gravitate towards those that are lesser known, but that’s not always the case.

Currently I’m in the middle of a few books so we’ll start from there: In the Fields by Willow Aster, Dear Emily by Trudy Stiles and Wishing for Someday Soon by Tiffany King. These are all signed paperbacks I got from a recent signing in New Orleans. Yes, I read signed books instead of preserving them but the truth is I read a lot faster when I’m reading off of a paperback vs an ebook.

On my Kindle app on my phone, I’m about 61% into the epic read that is The Bronze Horseman. Though I’m not “wowed” by this overly hyped book so far, I really am enjoying it, particularly the war aspect. And Shura is pretty great.

I’m also a bit into This Strange Endeavour by Kenneth Oppel and The Angel by Tiffany Reisz.

As you can see, I have a bit of a problem when it comes to finishing books…because I am almost always writing, I have to be careful what book I’m reading. Certain genres or styles won’t gel with my brain, which is why I have to put the story down and pick up another book that won’t mess with my writing process too much. So I suppose my to-be-read list should be my “to-finish-reading” list!   

Open to US and Canada
(All to 1 winner): Signed paperbacks of Donners of the DeadThe Devil’s Metal and The Devil’s Reprise plus a tote bag AND a one-page handwritten story about the winner in a fight with a zombie!

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About the Author

Karina Halle With her USA Today Bestselling The Artists Trilogy published by Grand Central Publishing, numerous foreign publication deals, and self-publishing success with her Experiment in Terror series, Vancouver-born Karina Halle is a true example of the term “Hybrid Author.”

Though her books showcase her love of all things dark, sexy and edgy, she’s a closet romantic at heart and strives to give her characters a HEA…whenever possible. Karina holds a screenwriting degree from Vancouver Film School and a Bachelor of Journalism from TRU. Her travel writing, music reviews/interviews and photography have appeared in publications such as Consequence of Sound, Mxdwn and GoNomad Travel Guides.

She currently lives on an island on the coast of British Columbia where she’s preparing for the zombie apocalypse with her fiance and rescue pup.”

Follow Karina:

Website | Facebook Author Page | Twitter | Goodreads

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