The Butterfly Garden

As far as we’re concerned this is the book of the year and certainly of the summer. This is the treat you take to the beach or on vacation. You can either savior it slowly or read it all at once. And don’t worry about post-book depression – there’s already a sequel and a movie in the works.

This book grabs you with both hands, demanding attention, and when it has you, it squeezes your heart until you can’t breathe.

We couldn’t tear my eyes away from the page as a young victim (or co-conspirator?) fitfully / slyly  dribbled out her heart wrenching story of depraved captivity and her life before that. The brilliance of this book is that the story does not ‘pour’ out, but oozes in frustrating, maddening tiny pieces to the FBI agents trying to question and understand her and what happened. After only a few dozen pages you are so immersed in the story you find yourself astonished at how the author can pack this much into so few pages, but she does and as you read onward, mesmerized and fascinated, you will  marvel at where author Dot Hutchinson came from, and how did she come up with this?

There will be inevitable comparisons to the ‘The Collector’ by John Fowles, but this story is actually different and unique. If anything ‘The Collector’ could almost be a companion piece.

And finally there is Maya / Inara, such a tough nut to crack even the FBI is stymied. We love her. If you don’t read this you’ll be missing out on one of the best psychological mystery crime stories of the decade.

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The Windup Girl

 What’s it to be this week? A good one or a bad one? We have plenty of bads  in the pipeline unfortunately, so since it’s summer let’s give you guys a best rated one. Some might ask why we bother to rate a book that already has 818 reviews but we think it’s important to recommend this and hopefully people who haven’t read it will take a chance.

As is our custom we’re not going to rehash the details since you can read them anywhere. We’ll just say it’s set in Thailand in the future and that gives the story a deep texture that is interesting and unusual. The story focuses on New People – genetically engineered slaves for all intents and purposes. We love that term: New People, it invokes a realistic feeling that rings true. It is so appropriate we can easily imagine that term coming into actual use when (not if) clones or the like are developed. And of course this being Thailand one of the primary uses for New People are as sex slaves. One in particular is Emiko, a Japanese engineered one who endures a wretched existence.

The book is filled with wondrous detail and concepts and frightening events and circumstances that we think will appeal to everyone, not just sci-fi fans. In fact treat this as literary fiction and go along with it. That being said there are some tough scenes not for the faint of heart. We kind of fell in love with Emiko, as we were expected to do we suppose. Contrary to some reviews we found the characters very satisfying and the story a must read.

If a clone is identical to a human, shouldn’t they be treated like one? The hitch is that in Asia, many humans aren’t treated as human beings anyway, so why should a clone be any different? The setting of Southeast Asia for this story is brilliant on so many levels! 

 

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In Conversations With Strangers

In Conversations with Strangers

This is a book that is difficult to assign to a genre. We suppose Literary Fiction would be the most fitting. In any case it would not have been a usual read for any of our reviewers. But one took a chance and was so enthused he recommended it to all of us—and we’re very, very glad he did.

You see, this is the story of a woman who abruptly uproots her life and goes on a journey across Australia. We don’t have a clear picture of why, but it doesn’t really matter, for the book is about the strangers she meets along the way and how they affect each other’s lives.

Every few pages of this book we found myself saying, “Wow, didn’t see that coming!” And that’s one of the highest compliments we can pay a novel. The editor read half the book in one sitting, anxious to discover what was around the bend.

Brenda Cheers, the author, has an uncanny knack for telling stories and you will never guess what’s coming next while thoroughly enjoying and savoring every single word, every twist and turn, which she divulges slowly and carefully. Each encounter is told with emotional impact so deep that the reader is left caring for each and every one. ‘In Conversations with Strangers’ is a journey both for the reader and we suspect the author..

We loved this book on so many different levels. It gives us a glimpse into Australia that we perhaps missed until now. It introduced us to so many fascinating characters.  It was at times sensitive and heart wrenching. At times it even gave us a insight into our own past relationships, especially one much like Janine, the main character, who wants to be left alone yet must somehow function in society.  It made us wish we had read this many years ago so we would have known how to handle that special young woman.

As the story reached conclusion we had a terrible foreboding of how it would end and we were correct… The fact that the ending had such an effect just proves what a skilled writer the author is. It thrilled us, saddened us, grabbed us, was at many points heart wrenching, and most of all made us think and feel about ourselves and our loved ones.

What a story teller, what an astonishing read! We couldn’t find a single thing to improve.

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About our reviews

About our reviews – and reviews in general.

As you may know this website only posts the most positive and the most negative reviews. That means we read many, many works that fall somewhere in between that we don’t bother to post. Reviews about art in general and the subgenre of literature are the most subjective of all types of reviews. What one person considers trash is another’s treasure of course. Take any book and you’ll find positive reviews and negative ones. How can this be?

It is fascinating to a degree to study one book’s reviews. We’ve seen some real problem books receive hundreds and even thousands of positive reviews and vice-versa, really excellent books get low or negative reviews. Can this all be the result of just different opinions? To see really poorly written books with lame characters and impossible plots get gushingly good reviews is difficult to comprehend. Is there more than meets the eye? Is something else going on?

In case you are not aware, there are people out there offering favorable reviews for payment. The more the author pays, the more positive reviews he or she will get. The author picks the number they want, they pay, and presto Amazon reviews start pouring in.

We have seen books that are not even published or have just been published days prior already have hundreds of stellar reviews. Is that good planning? Advance work? Beta copies distributed? Who knows? It is rather suspicious though – just as terrible books getting a massive amount of positive reviews.

On the flip side we’ve seen so many completely unjustified bad reviews. This seems especially true on Amazon unfortunately.  If the book was late shipping for example, does that deserve a one star review? We noticed a reviewer who clearly stated he never read the book, but gave it one star because of some perceived insult! Or someone didn’t like the cover, or didn’t like the philosophy, does that deserve a one star review? You may disagree with what takes place in ‘Lolita’ or ‘The Fountainhead’, but does that mean they deserve one star?

Still, as we stated at the beginning, reviews are subjective and opinions vary wildly. One sign you can look for when you check reviews is the ratio between positive and negative or one star and five star reviews. It’s a pretty good rule of thumb that on any given good book the negative reviews will be about 5% and that ratio will hold throughout the life of the book. Another telltale is if the reviewer actually ever read the book. One recent book we reviewed has an ending so twisted and shocking it’s impossible to mistake or miss, yet several reviews, both positive and negative, never mention it. Hmmm.

So to set the record straight: We don’t get paid for reviews. Several of us read every book from cover to cover. We don’t pay any attention to what others say. Our opinion is ours alone. And we don’t judge books by their cover, only the story.

And just to be clear, each book is judged on its story alone. If there’s a great, creative, unique, mind blowing story with great characters and emotional impact, we’re going to rate it highly – no matter what the cover looks like or if it has a few typos or grammar mistakes.

Vice-versa a book can have a beautiful cover and expertly edited and polished , but if the story is lame, describes illogical or unrealistic details and events, or has stupid, inane characters it’s going to receive a negative rating.

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Final Price

Final Price

Okay, so we love new takes on ideas that should have been obvious (like why didn’t I think of that) but no one has done until now. “Final Price’ fits that to a tee.

It’s about a serial killer – who is a used car salesman! How much more priceless can you get?

And to top it off it’s filled with unique characters  – Chang an Asian for a change and his dysfunctional but sensitive sidekick Nelson. And all told with sly dry humor. How about one scene when Chang and Nelson are getting tea. The clerk calls out: “3 Percent”. When Nelson returns from getting his drink, Chang asks him what that’s about. He replies he told the girl she had so many metal piercings her chance of getting struck by lightning had increased by 3 percent.

And it just goes on and on, getting better and better. There’s no mystery here, the story is all in the journey to catch the serial killer. We couldn’t find anything not to like about this book. It’s well written, clever, and hilarious.

If you want to read something different, creative, and amusing we highly recommend this.

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Afterlife

Afterlife by Ed Morawski

It’s not far in the future and the earth has become overpopulated. There are more people than food and everyone is on the verge of starving. The world government is desperately seeking a solution before utter catastrophe strikes.

What they come up with will blow your mind. We’re not going to spoil it by revealing their idea, but it’s unique.

And the book is unique as well with its religious undertones that should be the antithesis of that novel idea to reduce starving, but somehow it all works—and works beautifully.

In ‘Afterlife’ the government is not evil, but actually benign as its leader tries to reduce the suffering of his citizens. This is a point we really liked: a leader actually trying to do his job for the benefit of his people!

There are  twists and turns thrown in liberally (and a real special mind blowing one at the end) and some really clever ideas and symbolism strewn throughout. Pay particularly close attention to the character’s names and their actions and we think you’ll see how much thought went into this. The story can be read on several levels from many different points of view. At some point the author asks: would you sacrifice thousands of lives to save billions of lives? Just one of the many thought provoking concepts in ‘Afterlife’!

This story will stay with us for a long, long time. As will that ending you may see coming if you follow the signs…

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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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