Monsters of the Apocalypse

Human kind isn’t meant to be free; helium balloons are free. – from Monsters of the Apocalypse

We love to uncover hidden gems that too many people have never heard of. In this case only 17 people have reviewed it on Amazon. That’s almost criminal!

‘Monsters of the Apocalypse’ pretty much throws all conventions out the window and turns the zombie / vampire genre on its head, so if you’re brave enough, we urge you to dive right in. It’s a hell of a wild and unruly ride, but we think you’ll find it refreshing. This is certainly one of the best books we’ve read in years and we’re giving it a Best rating just for its sheer creativity.

With tongue firmly in cheek, Jordan Rawlins gives us a sly, dry, and oh so clever tale of not one, but multiple apocalypses. The story is told with brilliant yet subtle humor rare in post-apocalyptic fiction. The book is overflowing with memorable characters, of which we are sure each reader will have his or her own favorite. Ours by far is Miho – an undecipherable Asian woman whose exact allegiances are never quite clear, but whose deadly power is as subtle as the book’s humor.

We can’t couldn’t understand how this is not a runaway best seller and conclude that either Rawlings has had a horrible streak of bad luck or some just found it a little too over the top. And in places, especially the last 25%, the violence maybe is too much for some readers. Or maybe just not enough people have heard of “Monsters of the Apocalypse”, so we’re here to set that right!

 

 

 

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The Dead Key

‘The Dead Key’ was a winner in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel contest so it has to be good right? Well, no. The same people that select Kindle First books must have been in charge of this selection as well—because there’s absolutely nothing breakthrough about it.

The story is about a young woman, supposedly some kind of engineer who should know how things work, assigned to draw up blueprints for an abandoned bank building in Cleveland and the ‘mystery’ she uncovers. Told through flashbacks and extravagantly flowery prose, it might have been interesting—if it were remotely possible. The problem is the plot falls apart because it couldn’t happen the way it’s described so that kind of takes the steam out of the story.

You see back when the bank was active some unscrupulous bank executives were pilfering safe deposit boxes using something called a ‘dead key’. Only trouble is: there is no such thing—as anyone who ever actually went inside a bank knows. Safe deposit boxes require two keys to open. The customer / renter gets one and the bank keeps the other. Neither can open the box without both keys used at the same time. If the customer loses their key or dies the box must be drilled open. That’s it. Simple logic will tell you that no one would ever rent a safe deposit box knowing the bank could open it whenever they wish. The entire plot is bogus. Not only that but the safe deposit boxes are inside their own vault with twelve inch thick steel doors which they close and lock after hours! The interior of the bank even in the 70’s has motion detectors and cameras. No one can go roaming around a bank in the middle of the night looking through safe deposit boxes. It would appear the author knows nothing about her subject and never set foot inside of a bank, she probably only uses the ATM.

To make matters worse the flashbacks to when the bank was open are supposed to be in the 70’s but sound like the 40’s or 50’s and are totally wrong. The characters are uniformly stupid. The ‘heroine’ has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. She is described as a slut who sleeps with her boss, drinks too much, is always late, and consequently never bathes because she can’t rouse herself out of her drunken stupors. Alright, that is a little sexist but she could have been such a role model—a female engineer solving a complex technical mystery. What a waste of a book and a waste of time.

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To The Survivors

‘To The Survivors ‘ is the other book that caused conflict among our reviewers this month (besides ‘Here & There’). This book also ignited an editorial crisis of sorts. If a book is poorly written but packs an emotional wallop from well thought out characters and an otherwise great story, should be it be dismissed out of hand and given a bad review or rewarded for what it accomplishes?

First let us get the bad out of the way because we would be dishonest if we didn’t point out to potential readers the terrible editing and writing. The author seems to use commas in a whole different manner than what would be considered normal.  And we don’t mean a few missing commas here and there ,but on nearly every page there are either too few or too many, seemingly depending upon the author’s whims. At first we thought it was perhaps some long lost British style but soon put that out of our mind. Most sentences are missing at least one comma and sometimes periods, and we’ve never seen semicolons used like this actual sentence from the book: “I doubt that; look sit; tell me; how?”

Another big problem is the style of constantly telling things: Gary, Joe, and Liam went here. Val, and Kelly and Cass went there and did something. etc. etc. There are often so many characters involved it’s hard to keep track.

Now if you can get past that (and we did very quickly) you will find a heart warming story of survival told in the simplest terms, about people who we grew to love. It’s been a long, long time since we shed a tear over a story, but the character Hanna did it for us. There were long sections we had to stop reading because our eyes were full of tears. A disease has swept the world and everyone is dying in various stages. The government is struggling to help those that are still alive, The story revolves around a resourceful young man named Gary who may be immune but does his best to help others and keep the human race and civilization going as long as he can.

Some reviewers criticized that humans wouldn’t act this way in an apocalypse—noble and self sacrificing. We’re willing to hope they would. Certainly maybe in England they would? In any case it was so refreshing to read about good hearted human beings like Gary (our new idol) trying to survive—without zombies, vampires or aliens getting in the way.

Despite it’s considerable flaws, we loved this book for its ode to people who wouldn’t just lay down and die and most of all for its humanity. It is a book we will cherish and read again and again and that’s a high complement.

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Here & There

Two books caused quite a disagreement among our reviewers this month: ‘To the Survivors’ and this one ‘Here & There’. The controversy revolved around whether they were Best or Worst! Some reviewers considered ‘Here & There’ to be a masterpiece written outside of the box, while others saw it as bloated, wordy, and incredibly boring. With no consensus on the horizon, the Editor had to weigh in.

Clearly the book has some, shall we say, unusual aspects. We’ve read some ‘wordy’ books before, but this one could be a champion of wordiness. The book is 634 pages and we can only guess that the author, Joshua V. Scher, just enjoys seeing his words appear on the page because, unfortunately, a good percentage of those words have nothing to do with the actual story (we think) he is trying to tell. For example, (and this is just one of many, many, many) – the protagonist / narrator consumes five or six pages trying to impress some girls in a bar with his (fake) tale of being a smoke jumper in the Pacific Northwest. This has absolutely nothing to do with the story of a scientist and his family who vanished in a scientific experiment. To make matters worse there are vast swatches of actual gibberish that are supposed to be some code. You see, the story is unique in that it is told from the perspective of a son trying to learn about his mother through her notes of her investigation into the disappearance of a scientist and his family. And there are LOTS of conspiracy theories and actual conspiracies and spying.

The idea behind the story is fascinating, but having to wade through all the chaff to get there can be tedious and often boring—or strangely fascinating and exciting, depending on your point of view. This aspect is what divided our reviewers. The book could literally been edited in half and the core story would remain intact. And that story is quite enthralling. Sometimes humorous, sometimes creepy, often inexplicable, it makes you feel as if you are on the inside of a humanity changing event.

The core of the story is about teleportation: All the theories (some logical, some outlandish), experiments, all the failures, all the partial successes, interwoven with an odd family dynamic of a brilliant scientist, his wife, and twin boys. Mixed in with this is a healthy dose of quantum physics that sounds legitimate (i.e. quark echoes) but when researched yielded nothing, so who knows. Certain key facts and elements are revealed in sometimes casual ways, so if you’re inclined to skip over sections (or blink) you may miss a critical revelation. One concerning the twin boys was literally mind blowing, so watch for it.

The style of writing can be jarring one section and astonishing the next, sprinkled liberally with wit and creepiness, and then in the end outright horror. At times it worked very well, often it didn’t. In fact, after the book ends, it keeps going! As if the author just couldn’t bring himself to say goodbye. However this book is so audacious in its conception and execution we have to come down on the side of a ‘Best’ rating. If you’re willing to take the plunge, make the commitment, steel yourself with lots of patience, it’s a damned frustrating but wildly interesting ride.

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Forging Zero

Our selection as a ‘Worst’ book does not indicate the book is poorly written. In fact most are written quite well. Just as a ‘Best’ rating does not always mean it is well written either – and many are not. In the case of ‘Forging Zero’ (part of a series) it is very well written and at first we quite enjoyed it. The problem with this book is its content. So is it fair to give it a Worst rating? Would it be fair to give ‘Lolita’ for example, a poor rating because of its content? Yes, we think so. A book must be judged on its entirety to be sure but the actual content is key. If a book is marvelously written but makes no sense or or is boring then it’s not a good book.

This book is definitely not boring. In fact it is one wow of a book. Not only is it 575 pages, but it is unique in almost every way. It’s an alien invasion tale, but most of the action happens away from earth. It has dozens of fascinating characters – including the aliens. The main characters are children, but it is in no way a children’s or a young adult book (in fact we wouldn’t let anyone under 18 read it). It is extremely entertaining as the author invents an complete alien world including the most minor details and language.

At the beginning we couldn’t put it down and we were more than ready to give it a ‘Best’ rating. It is billed as the highest rated science fiction book on Amazon. But as we read on there were times we had to stop and even loathed picking it back up.

In this day of hyper sensitivity, political correctness, and child protection (heck, mothers routinely get arrested for letting their kids go to a park alone), we have no idea how this book got published or acquired a readership. Don’t get us wrong, we’re glad it did, but we are shocked.

The main reason the characters are children is because all the aliens seem to want from earth was all the children between 5 and 12, to draft into their army. Okay, that’s risky but interesting. The problem is the aliens routinely humiliate, abuse, and torture them in the name of discipline and military training. And we don’t mean torture like playing loud rock music everyone was so upset about at Abu Ghraib, we mean breaking bones, ripping off skin, clawing them, and eating them alive. And when they’re not undergoing that, the kids are doing endless push ups, running a hundred laps, or cleaning a vast plaza with a rake through the night. The reason the aliens can do all this is that their technology heals the broken bodies so they can do it all over again.

They also feed the kids growth hormones so the five year olds soon have bodies like 16 year olds. Then of course we get the sex. Since the girls were given forced hysterectomies when they were ‘drafted’ sex is plenty much a free for all as soon as their bodies reach simulated puberty. Trouble is these are still 5 and 8 year old minds having sex with 12 year old boys. And for good measure there is plenty of rape thrown in because of the raging hormone diet. All right, we could still take some of this, after all many books are filled with violence and sex and monstrous serial killers, but it just went on and on and on to the point we felt queasy. How many times do we have to get children ripped apart, raped, beaten, tongues cut out, overloaded with pain from an alien device, and even killed and brought back to life, to get the point?

What is the point anyway? Inhumanity? Break them down to build them up? No army on earth would do these things. The author doesn’t just hit the reader over the head with this torture and abuse, she bludgeons us to death with it for 500 plus paages. The main character Joe Dobbs, a 14 year old, could not possibly have survived or remained sane with what he is put through in this book, no matter how tough you think a 14 year old could be.

So we get back to over a thousand five star reviews: yeah, this book has a lot going for it, but gee how to you overlook 575 pages of the worst child abuse you could ever imagine? If people dislike our rating, so be it – our human soul is still intact.

 

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The Silla Project

‘The Silla Project’, though written in 2012, couldn’t be more timely. It is the story of an American scientists, who for pretty good reasons of hate toward the U.S. goes to North Korea to help them develop an atomic bomb.

But the bomb itself is actually a side note in this story of the Korean people and what it’s like to live in this virtually unknown country and culture.

As the author himself writes: If you are looking for something to scratch that Crichton itch, this may be it. I wrote The Silla Project based on an idea I had when I was working a SECRET missile task for the government some years ago. The Silla Project began life as a pure thriller focusing on the horror of nuclear weapons in the hands of lunatics. I hadn’t researched for long when I realized the story wasn’t bombs at all, but people. The North Korean people are not fanatical lunatics but are an agonizing study in what happens under the most extreme oppression and brutality imaginable where all forms of self-expression are utterly suppressed and only the mandated worship of one man is tolerated.

The book is simply unique and original. The author took a society that almost no one knows anything about: North Korea, and fleshed out the culture and people so well that we felt sorry for its citizens and especially the well drawn characters. The book was obviously very well researched which we really appreciate. And not just the science of atomic bomb making, but Korea as a whole and its geography and customs. Within a few pages the author about had us convinced North Korea was the most misunderstood country on earth. We appreciated the depth of immersion into the shadowy North Korean society.

There are quite a few religious references and at first we feared this was going to be some kind of Christian fiction genre, but in fact the main character Mitch begins to lose his faith because of all that happened to him and this made the story all the more believable. The pace was mostly gripping and we felt for the characters. The plot fell down a bit in the last quarter and we wish the characters would have been a bit trickier-  like using radiation to scare the officials (we think a great story line was lost there) but overall except for the proofing it was a great read.

 

 

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American Elsewhere

 Every once in a while a book comes along that blows your mind. American Elsewhere was one of those for us!

Rarely does a novel comes along so awesomely bizarre!. A mind breaking mixture of early Stephen King and ‘Lost’. Every page is a treasure you can’t believe or stop reading and yet you can’t wait to get to the next one to see what happens next. And all the while you ask yourself: ‘What the heck just happened?’ This story contains not one wasted word or superfluous phrase. Even after devouring 688 pages we wanted more. We never wanted it to end.

The author, Robert Jackson Bennett, out does Stephen King and then some. Where does his mind come from? By far one of the best books we’ve ever read. ‘American Elsewhere restores our faith in books and authors and we think it will for you as well. If you like mystery of the scientific and ‘Lost’ kind, by all means give it a try.

 

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A Criminal Defense

‘A Criminal Defense’ has two strikes against it right from the get go: 1. It is about lawyers (and Philadelphia lawyers at that) and 2. It is an Amazon Kindle First book.

We don’t know who at Amazon selects these books but they are batting about 1 out of a 100. Kindle First books are pretty consistently bad and this is no exception. (What can you really expect for free?)

The promise of the book was at least good: a criminal defense attorney named Mick narrates a sensational murder case in the first person. Sound good? We thought so. We thought we’d get to know what goes on in the mind of the defense attorney who defends a client he thinks is almost certainly guilty. Alas, the author apparently doesn’t really understand this concept of first person narrative, because every time Mick’s thoughts turn to a key part of his defense he doesn’t share them! In one example, a critical piece of video evidence surfaces. Mick views the video and is shocked at what he sees – BUT he won’t tell us!

Note to author: if you don’t want to reveal these kinds of secrets and can’t figure out how to write creatively – than don’t use the first person! It’s ridiculous.

If this were the only problem we suppose the book would just be mediocre, but it gets a lot worse. These are more coincidences and absurd connections than the most outlandish episode of ‘24’ or ‘Dallas’ or any soap opera for that matter. The victim, a young reporter, is sleeping with literally every male in the vicinity of Philadelphia – most of them at the same time. Since she is a certified slut the reader has little sympathy for her brutal murder no matter how gruesome the author tries to portray it. And to add to that flaw, none of the other characters are sympathetic in any way either. Mick himself is the embodiment of a low life sleazy defense attorney, not to mention the DA prosecutor, Mick’s wife and everyone else involved. About the only innocent in this entire book is Mick’s 6 year old daughter and we’re surprised he didn’t find a way to trash her too.

And in the end that’s the only description we can up with for this book: trash.

Mind you this book has something like 1,800 positive reviews on Amazon. Quite a feat considering it was just released. Amazon has a bad reputation for, shall we say ‘suspect reviews’, and if this certyainly doesn’t alleviate our suspicions.

If you have time to waste, then by all means read it. We at bookexposed are confident you’ll be back here knowing we tell it like it is.

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