Actual rating: 3.5 Stars*Note: I can't really avoid spoilers for the first two books in this review, so if you're planning on reading them, then you probably shouldn't read this! (Unless you don't care about spoilers––in which case, go right ahead.)So, don't get me wrong ... I'm a big fan of this series. Especially as someone who doesn't delve much into the whole zombie/horror genre, I find this series to be impressing over all. They're well-written, they're exciting, there are some terrific characters and a lot of thought-provoking themes that I wouldn't typically expect from a zombie book.That said, I found this one to be a little disappointing. It wasn't bad, and I enjoyed reading it, but it just didn't blow me away in the same way the first two books did.Basically, the third book starts on a pretty grim note: Tom Imura is dead, leaving Benny, Nix, Lilah, and Chong to survive in the zombie-infested Rot & Ruin on their own. They're still searching for a plane like the one they once saw in the sky––because a plane is a sign of civilization, and maybe even a safe place from the zoms. The only problem is, the zombies seem to be getting increasingly more intelligent. And the kids have other problems to face, like crazy cults and escaped zoo animals. Without Tom to guide them, they must all use what they've learned in order to survive. Well, I'll just get this out of the way first: I MISSED TOM.I mean, I know that was kind of the point. It was supposed to be painful. And honestly, throughout the first two books I just had a feeling all along that Tom would have to die. I mean, mentors always have to die in books don't they? Otherwise the main characters can never mature and learn to do things on their own, etc. BUT STILL. The thing is, Tom was my favorite character. He was just so badass and awesome, and ... guh, I just loved him so much, okay? I understand why Jonathan Maberry made the decision to kill him off, and the whole thing about Benny essentially wanting to replace Tom was intriguing ... but it still tore me to pieces and I really missed Tom just being there in the story. It didn't feel the same without him.But okay, okay. I tried to get over my love of Tom and still enjoy the plot without him. And for the most part, I did. There was some more interesting world-building: I like how, as the protagonists move into different areas, they see how people have different references/slang when it comes to talking about zombies, which makes sense. I also thought the addition of the cults was interesting (not to mention disturbing). The zoo animals felt a little far-fetched to me (I mean, they're in the U.S. and in an uncontrolled environment ... soooo wouldn't they die in the winter?), but at least their presence was ... entertaining, I guess.I just didn't feel quite as invested in the story in this book. It felt a little too ... focused to me. I can't think of a better way to describe it. It's like, I feel like the previous books were a bit more crazy. They had more of a "wild adventure" feel, where the characters were running all over the place, and there were bounty hunters, and there was Gameland, and it was all insane and awesome. This one was mostly just ... cults and scary zoo animals. And look, that stuff is crazy too and all, I just felt like it got a bit repetitive. While it was fun for the most part, there were chunks of it when I was just kinda like .... "Mehhh."I know, I know. I'm so eloquent.Anyway. My other major problem is that ... I just don't like Benny and Nix, I realized. In my reviews for the previous books, I think I just said that I didn't really like them as a couple. But in this book, I started to also dislike them ... in general. As individuals. I think it had something to do with the fact that they were cut off from Chong and Lilah. And while Chong and Lilah's separate adventures were much more interesting, Benny and Nix were mostly kind of wandering around and being sad and discussing their relationship and whatnot. And the more frustrated I got with their storyline, the more I came to realize that I just don't find them to be particularly compelling characters. Previously I'd been like, "I don't like Benny and Nix as a couple and I just can't figure out why ..." But now I think the problem is that I just don't particularly care for either of them. On top of that, Nix was just really annoying sometimes. Like, Benny made some comment about Riot (who was awesome by the way) being kind of attractive, and Nix was like "EEW I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU THINK THAT UGLY GIRL IS PRETTY, ARGH I BET YOU LIKE HER BENNY YOU TURD." And I'm like ... geez girl, what's wrong with you? It just got to the point where I could barely stand her anymore.So yeah ... basically it occurred to me that I really just care about Lilah and Chong. And I cared about Tom, but he's dead now ... so, DAMN IT. Oh, but I did really like the parts about Lilah and Chong. They were exciting. YAAAAAY.But anyway, just a few more miscellaneous things that bothered me (THERE WILL BE SPOILERS!!!!):- The whole thing with Benny's "inner voice" (and I don't mean Tom's ghost, although I'll get to that in a second). It's almost as bad as the "inner goddess" in Fifty Shades of Grey. And by that I mean, it's way too repetitive. I mean, I think these books are quite well-written for the most part, but the references to Benny's "inner voice" are just way too frequent. So yeah, that bugs me. I noticed this in the previous two books too, but I don't think I ever mentioned it in my reviews. So, yeah.- The chapters felt way too short sometimes. And I guess I noticed this in the other books, but it came to my attention more often in this one. Like, literally some of the chapters would be a paragraph long. And ... I just don't like that. Maybe it's a personal taste thing, but it just seems unnecessary to me. If a chapter is that short, just combine it with another chapter. Otherwise, I start having Maximum Ride flashbacks. *Shudders*- Oh yeah, Tom's ghost. Or, well, his ghostly voice apparently "speaking" in the characters' heads. I know it happened frequently to Benny and to Lilah also ... I can't remember if there was anyone else. But, I found it a bit confusing. I mean, I assumed that it was just in their imaginations or whatever, but then it was referred to so often that I was like, "Wait ... What? Is Tom actually a ghost?" And just ... I don't know. I understand that Tom was important to them, and that it was symbolic or something, but it felt a little silly at times to me. "Silly" seems like the wrong word, though. But ... that's the best I've got.- Lilah revealing that she'd been in love with Tom. ...... WHAT???!!! Was this addressed in previous books and I totally missed it ... ? Because if I recall correctly, she'd never really seemed to be interested in Tom that way. Or maybe I'm just really stupid and didn't pick up on it. But anyway, it seemed to come totally out of the blue. And ... I just found it kind of creepy. I mean, with the age difference ... just ... ugh. Also, it seemed uncharacteristic of her to me. So, that weirded me out.- The whole climatic scene at the end felt pretty anti-climatic, because basically Benny just got knocked out near the beginning and missed the whole thing. So then we as readers also had to miss out on it and didn't really get to "see" anything happen. And I was like "NOOOOooo I want to see all the madness and mayhem!" D: - And then, of course ... CHONG. WHAT. CHONG IS A ZOMBIE? WHAT THE EVERLOVING HELLLLL. Man, you should see all the notes I took on my Kindle while I read this. They're all like "wut ... NOoo ... chooong ... DAFUQ .... FUCKKKK NOOOooo." So yeah. I was very upset. Seeing as he's one of the only two remaining characters that I actually like, I find this very sad. So ... I really hope somehow he doesn't like ... permanently die. I don't know. I JUST LOVE HIMMMMM AND ... NOOOOOoooo. ... Well, I suppose that's all I have to say. Yes, as you can see, there were some things that bothered me in this book. However, I did still find it exciting and thought-provoking as the previous two books had been. And of course, I shall eagerly await the next book in the series.