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The End Games - T. Michael Martin An ARC was provided in exchange for a review. This in no way influenced my thoughts in any way.

Almost more than 24 hours later, I'm still a bit stumped and at a loss. No, no, it's not because this book gave me something to ponder on for days on end, rather, I simply found it difficult to gather my thoughts and coherently put them into words. Did this book have zombies? Well, yes, close enough. Was it entertaining? Yes. Did I like it? Yes and no. If that sounds fickle to you, it probably is, but let me explain why I'm torn between "fuck yeah awesome" and "I'm outta here".

The premise is original and intriguing. Like any other zombie fiction, it mainly revolves around the heroes' survival, but what kept the story from going to the "been there done that" pile were the game concept as well as the heart warming relationship between Michael and Patrick. These two brothers have been on their own since Halloween, the End of the World. They've been relying on each other all this while. They're in a "game", in which the objective is to get to the Safe Zone and meet their mother. To do this, they have to fight the Bellows, dead people walking that distort your words and echo them back to you, as well as follow the instructions from the Game Master.

If you're looking for a darker plot than most YA survival stories, this one here is right up your alley. It is absolutely thrilling, creepy, and sinister. This is a world where you only have yourself to trust, because even those alive have proven themselves equally dangerous. I found myself glued to the pages, unable to keep myself away as the escalation of events became even more suspenseful. The atmosphere is emotional, a sense of urgency is present, and all of these are intensified thanks to the close bond between Michael and Patrick, who are dependent on each other for both of their sanities, a realistic relationship of protector and the one being protected. It is a riveting plot that would put you at the edges of your seat, a story of lies, manipulation, and survival, and for me, it could have been a fun ride from beginning to end.

Note the could.

Alas, in the end, it wasn't meant to be. What dampened my enjoyment was the way the narration was written. It was hard for me to get used to it at first as the style was a bit different, and unfortunately, I think I was uncomfortable to the last page. The author made the voice sound like from a teenager's, which is quite weird since it's told in third person anyway, but it only felt unnatural and forced to me. It felt like the narration was trying hard to reach out to me and have me relate with my inner teen, but... yeah, no.

Most of the characters were also annoying as hell. I think I only liked one person, and that was Bobbie, an old grandma who managed to survive with the small group of survivors in the Capitol. The rest - bah. Despite the heartwarming relationship between Michael and Patrick, at least, the protector vs. damsel in distress kind, I also disliked both of them, as in, I wouldn't have cared if they were killed anyway; I just wanted them to finally stop talking. Patrick sometimes acted like a three year old kid, and then talk like a ten year old, and then revert back to being too cutesy. Each time, I only wanted to yell, STAHP IT!! Don't get me wrong, I love kids, but it was so exhausting to read his dialogue and his antics, and the only thing I thought in my mind every time he'd come up was "Please let it be over soon; o, have mercy!! Michael, on the other hand, was decent with his "I'm the macho guy, I can take care of all of ye" attitude, but there were times he infuriated me as well. While questionable, I understood some of the actions he did; those were merely done because he believed it was for the best interests of his younger brother, and I guess that tidbit gave him more depth. The "love interest" was also one of the ficklest characters I've ever had the displeasure to read, and one of the most irritating as well. She said she cared for the brothers, but every time she did something for them out of that "care" and "goodness", she only made things worse not only for them, but for everybody else. And how truly convenient that she was Michael's age, too! What are the odds of encountering someone like that out of the blue, huh? Their "romance" felt superficial, too. Ugh.

Overall, this is not a bad book. The storyline, despite the annoying characters and unnecessary romance, is something those looking for a darker and more sinister plot would find appealing and would probably enjoy. I advice reading this with no high expectations, lest you might be disappointed, as I was. Nevertheless, it's still a solid 3/5 stars for me.

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