Thursday, September 18, 2014

Plagued: The Midamerica Zombie Half-Breed Experiment (Plagued States of America, #1) by Better Hero Army

This review was written by: B and C
Received: Free paperback from the author
Publication Date of Book: September 2013
Pages: 162
Stars: (5/5)

"I have your file, your picture. I know you like pictures.  I'll tell your parents about you if I ever get out of here.  In the meantime, just remember your name is Penelope Hope, and hope is a good thing."

A young man by the name of Tom travels to the Plagued States of America, one of his few and only hopes that may lead to him finding his little sister Larissa. Years ago, when the zombie wave first hit, his younger sibling was ripped away from him.  Larissa was unexpectedly bitten when Tom was supposed to be protecting her, an incident that he could never forget even if he tried.  It is here in the Plagued States of America, particularly the area known as Biter Hill, where our troubled protagonist must search high and low twice a year for a hope that may never come to fruition.  Biter Hill is where many individuals come to trade zombies that they've recently acquired and gander at the spectacles surrounding them, but only the zombie hunters are crazy enough to go near flesh eating, mindless humans.  Even while the zombies seem harmless, you should never get too close to them.  Used as slaves by modern day humanity, people are willing to use them despite the dangers.  These ferocious beasts are kept in a prison at night, moaning until dawn.  Placed and corralled like cattle, they are fenced in, never allowed to leave a heavily guarded area.

Tom must look through the record books located at this zombie outpost.  Perhaps he will see if his sister was brought here and finally fulfill his father's demands, or maybe something unexpectedly horrible will happen instead.  When Tom meets Penelope, a half human/half zombie hybrid, he is naturally curious.  Half-breeds are rare and a true site to see.  While she appears distant and detached from the rest of the world, she's as fast as lightning and surprisingly intelligent.  Her features are more human than zombie, and you could never tell her true nature unless you looked at her glazed eyes.  Locked in a cage, she avoids Tom and rarely shows emotion.  Despite Penelope's current feelings, Tom becomes seemingly more and more intrigued with her situation and her former self prior to this current zombie status.  When Penelope catches a glimpse of a picture with Larissa on it, Tom knows that she is his only hope of finding her, no matter the outposts and their logs.

Suddenly, as he is trying to depart back to his home, a horrible outbreak occurs.  Zombies are getting out, running rampant, feeding off of every human that they can find, craving their flesh.  So many perish.  Zombie hunters, while many are present, are no match for the numerable waves of zombies that just keep flowing out of the prison, and only a few uninfected civilians make it out of this ordeal alive, including Tom.  A group of zombie hunters picked him up out of the chaos along with several other men and women.  They are led by Peske, the owner of the half-breed Penelope who is still under his thumb.  Together, this group must make it out alive through the zombie ridden wasteland if they ever hope to make it safety.  Tom promised Peske that if he got them to a certain point, he would call his father, a powerful Senator, who would have the power to help them receive a rescue team to fly them out of trouble.  However, he was only willing to do this if Peske allowed him to borrow Penelope so that he could find his younger sister while they were waiting for assistance.

In this day and age, zombie books are pumped out so often that the subject occasionally turns monotonous and feels so overused that the ideas are recycled time and time again.  However, Plagued:The Midamerica Zombie Half-Breed Experiment was an amazing and refreshing zombie novel that all die hard lovers of the shuffling dead genre have to check out!  The idea of half human/half zombie individuals was brilliantly executed!  The mystery behind this subject unfolded quite well, and the answer to this secret was definitely unexpected.  It was interesting to see how Better Hero Army created and breathed new life into a zombie world that had yet to be portrayed.  While so many other stories in this genre are filled with nothing but chaos, his had a structure to it that involved several types of zombies.  There were the half-breeds, a rare and fascinating topic to read about where we slowly discover their true nature during the book's entirety.  Then we have the zombies who are selected and sold as slaves.  These individuals are temporary disabled and, in a sense, operated upon, so that they cannot infect others with their contagious bite.  Finally, we get to see the wild zombies that roam the land in search of meat to satisfy their insatiable hunger, and not only are there adult zombies but children are included in this group as well.  Perhaps the children are just as compelling to read about as the half-breeds are.  We don't want to spoil too much about the story so we'll just say that they don't kill for themselves and never age.    

There are so many aspects to this book that we thoroughly enjoyed.  One of these includes how different the zombie hunters were portrayed compared to the everyday civilians.  These two groups kept butting heads and definitely added a rich aspect to the book.

"How the hell do you guys do this for a living?" Tyler asked.
"Hunting zombies?  It's easy.  No different than lions going into a herd of horned caribou.  Any one of them could gore  them lions, and the lions know it!  But that don't stop them.  It's when you start thinking like you're going to die, like you're prey.  That's when you get yourself killed."-Peske

As many have undoubtedly read, multiple zombie books have cataclysmic repercussions after the zombie apocalypse.  Such worlds are often filled with lawless nations with gun-toting generic characters.  However, Better Hero Army has interestingly enough constructed a zombie after effect that possesses a mostly high functioning human society that has learned to control the zombie outbreak, instead of letting it rule their lives.  Zombies, while dangerous, also provide jobs for a large range of individuals who are willing to expose themselves to the danger that zombie hunting harbors.  A cure is now on the way, but how they are figuring out the means to the end is part of the government's many dirty little secrets.

If you are looking for a survival book, this is a possible option for you.  We loved the descriptions contained in Plagued.  For example, fireflies coated the scenery beyond the main scene.  While many saw glowing insects, these glowing lights were really the eyes of the walking dead, slowly advancing on the group hoping to catch a meal.  Can you imagine the chills after reading that?

Overall, there are so many things to love in Better Hero Army's first installment in the Plagued States of America series to possibly write about.  The journey to find Tom's sister and the guilt ridden conscious that he endured throughout this novel was a story worth telling.  The ending was a shocker to us.  It was not what we were expecting.  It was both heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time.  How is this possible?  Read Plagued: The Midamerica Zombie Half-Breed Experiment and discover the answer for yourself!

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The Plantation (Jonathon Payne & David Jones, #1) by Chris Kuzneski

This review was written by: B
Received: GoodReads Giveaway
Publication Date of Book: April 2002
Pages: 391
Stars: (5/5)

Pain is something everyone must deal with, and those that deal with it the best will succeed the most.

People are mysteriously disappearing, being abducted by the same unknown force.  These taken individuals were specially selected for a reason, and this reason centers on revenge.  The kidnappings are going on right under everyone's radar until one particular woman is taken, Ariane.  Ariane is a bright, beautiful young woman who is dating one very important man, Jonathan Payne.  An ex-MANIAC, or a participant of an elite branch of the U.S. military, and the head of a huge company, Payne can easily get around.  To make things better, his former comrade and best friend, David Jones is now a detective.  Together, these two men must find Ariane before something horrible happens to her.  Quickly getting a glimpse of what must be going on, they are determined to stop it before matters get worse.

Taking a look at the security footage from her apartment, the area of her abduction, they find that the culprits are all dressed in black from head to toe, and underneath the black clothing  is dark skin as well.  The two clues that they have to go on right now are one tattoo and a single license plate number.  From here, Jones and Payne go on the thriller of the century.  With the authorities having their hands tied in this case, the two take it upon themselves to find out that a group is on a secluded piece of land in the middle of a watery nowhere that absolutely no one would ever look on.  The horrors that go on here behind the veil of law is stunningly gruesome.

Ariane wakes up to find herself in an unexpected and frightening situation.  She's on a plantation that was used years ago when slavery was still a major part of the United States's history.  Here, all of the people are put to work, going through the same horrors that the slaves went through before the conclusion of the Civil War.  Forced to look over the fields, tending to them and working the ground, the civilians live a life of horror.  Cruel men look over them, never raising a helpful hand except when an overseer wants one of them beaten.  Everyday is a game of chance, wondering who will be tortured next.  Ariane is holding out hope that Payne will find her and deliver everyone from the depths of despair.  However, she is still determined to remain strong.  This woman goes and tries to lend a helping hand to those who need it and lessen the pain of everyone around her.  In the face of death, she is still an amazing person.

Why were these people selected to be put on the plantation?

Will Payne and Jones save everyone before it's too late or will things turn south?

Sometimes you gotta betray one trust to gain another.
-Levon Greene

I was extremely shocked when I was reading the forward to this book.  Kuzneski described how no one wanted to publish his book at first, and I thought to myself how crazy they must have been.  The Plantation was brilliant!  The story was so original and thought provoking.  Who would have ever thought of the white man working under those of African descent instead of the other way around on a plantation?  It was a total turn around.  Learning about slavery throughout the entirety of my schooling, I can easily see how horrible it must have been for those poor people.  I, like countless others, despise the thought of one man, no matter their color, ruling and beating another.  The Antebellum lifestyle surrounding the injustice of slavery was a horrible thing, a definite dark spot on American history.  While some individuals may think that this book is racist, I have to strongly disagree.  It was a brilliant outlook on what could and may have been.

Many reviewers mention that the book was graphic and too hard for them to read.  I can definitely understand this.  There were some parts that included extensive blood shed and disturbing scenes, but, while they might be part of the story, they don't engulf it.  I have to respect the author in this way.  He wrote at the end how he wanted to accurately portray how life on the plantation for a slave was no walk in the park.  There were horrible instances every single day that they had to endure.  I feel as though he gave this fact utmost justice.  I also believe that he did an amazing job describing how some overseers may have felt.  Some enjoyed the pain and torture that they were able to inflict on others.  I was extremely glad that Kuzneski's writing rang true to history in so many ways that it may seem unbelievable when reading it.

I absolutely loved Payne and Jones together.  They were hilarious.  Even in the darkest of times, they would make the funniest comments as a way of stress release.  They both were strong characters that you wanted to know more about, especially Payne. The drive and passion that this man had for the safety of one woman was amazing.  Also, this book had an fantastic pace to it.  The adventure, thrill, and suspense never let up.  There was plot twist after plot twist, deception after deception.  I really didn't want to put it down even though I had to carry on with my life.  To be honest, I never expected to love this book so much, but I did.  It has an excellent writer behind it who can easily get into the human mind and write like a true expert.  It almost felt like I was watching a movie instead of reading a book!  I definitely would love to continue this series.  There's no doubt about it, The Plantation was a fabulous creation that countless people enjoyed and hopefully will continue to enjoy and read for years to come.  Kuzneski definitely deserves five starts for this breathtaking creation!          

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Seraph of the End, Vol. 1: Vampire Reign by Takaya Kagami

This review was written by: B and C
Received: Library
Publication Date of Book: June 2014
Pages: 200
Stars: (5/5)

"Lt. Colonel Guren told me something.  He said that when you were a child, your entire family was slaughtered by vampires.  And that is why you refuse to get close to anyone.  You're afraid to lose someone again.  So you don't look for friends or romance...because you're too scared."
               -Shinoa Hiragi

Yuichiro, or Yu, was almost killed by his father, and his mother went crazy, calling him "demon spawn." The woman who was supposed to devoutly love him eventually committed suicide, and his father attempted to murder him, the person who was supposed to always protect him in life.  As a result of this messed up situation between his parents, he is sent to an orphanage.  It is here that all of the children quickly take to him like they do to all of the new arrivals and immediately consider him part of their nonbiological yet true family.  Yu is then approached by the charismatic and "big brother" of the group, Mikaela.  Seeing as they are both eight, the oldest of all the boys and girls in the orphanage, they are looked up to by all.  While Mikaela stresses that they are all family, Yu states that he "doesn't want some stupid family."  This simple word that is so full of meaning proves to be of absolutely no significance to him.  However, he soon finds out that all of the children have had horrible family lives previous to their current situation, just like he did.  That is why they always stick together.  Shocked and now deepened by a bond, Yu is slightly less hardened to them, but he never lets this show.  At the same time, Mikaela sees right through his tough exterior.

Almost as soon as the previously mentioned events occur, vampires suddenly and unexpectedly rise to the surface of the earth in the dead of night.  Adults suddenly fall ill and die in seconds.  Children are left all alone.  Mikaela and Yu try to protect the kids and themselves but are taken underground by the evil inhuman creatures that rule in twilight.  It is here that they live among the creatures of darkness, never to know the sweet kiss of the sun again.  The children grow up a little, and we see them viewed as nothing more than human livestock for the vampires to feed off of as they wish.  They are told that all of the adults died and that now the vampires run as rampant as they wish, as long as it is during the evening hours.  Yu and Mikaela still try to protect their "family" and look over everyone with love and sacrifice.  Freely giving his blood to a noble vampire, Mikaela goes to the demon's house and, during the feeding sessions, slowly steals several items.  One of these includes a very important map that shows all of the tunnels that lead in and out of the underground fortress/city that they are kept in.  This place is a maze, but with the map, the gang has a strong chance to get out and taste freedom once more.            

After returning from a feeding session with the noble vampire, Mikaela wakes everyone up so that they can make their escape.  Following and trusting this new found possession to be accurate, they finally make it to the end of the line.  A huge archway marks their freedom from the underground prison up to the real world that they were born into, but everything goes wrong.  That very same noble vampire is their, waiting eagerly for the young faces to spot him.  From here, he admits that he was planning this out from the very beginning so that he could see the terror on their little faces.  Slaughter quickly ensues and child after child is viciously fed upon until each one is drained of blood for the purpose of a fun game that one vampire concocted.  Helpless to do anything against the vampire's strength and speed, they see countless loved ones fall every second while they still continue to run to the archway.  Finally, only Yu is left.  (Mikaela sacrificed himself so that Yu may live.)  Tired, stricken with guilt, and in utter shock, Yu eventually reaches the surface, a single survivor out of all that tried to escape the grasps that bound them.  However, it is not what he expected.  He is greeted by a young man who claims to kill the blood suckers that come up to his turf during the night.  Yu promises that he wants to be like them, that he will fight with them and kill those who hurt him and took his loved ones away. Yu is out for revenge.

As a surprise to Yuichiro, adults still roam the earth.  Not all of them died in the sudden epidemic and are still active in today's society.  Now that humanity has fallen, it is trying to get back on its feet and take a stand.  Yu wants to be a part of this by killing every single vampire he encounters.  To do so, he must first join to Moon Demon Company, an elite assassination/extermination group.  However, in order to do so, he is told that he must learn to work in a group.  Yu is horrible at this.  To him, he alone must get revenge.  In doing so, the orders that he is given by those in the company mean nothing to him.  He does what he wants without listening to anyone or with regards to authority.  This is the story of his journey to making his one dream a reality.

Yu is struggling to this day.  He continues to think about that night when he made it to the surface while everybody else perished before his very eyes.  They were together and then suddenly they weren't.  Being the lone survivor in this experience makes it so much harder.  No one  went through what he did because he couldn't save those with him.  His drive is what makes him live on.  One would hate to think about what he would do if he didn't have a cause.

What many people do not realize is that we are secret anime and manga junkies. (Now that that is out in the open, cue the shy glance towards the floor.) Seraph of the End, Vol. 1: Vampire Reign was the embodiment of why we love them.  Takaya Kagami wrote an amazing story full of action, loss, love, friendship, revenge, hints of humor, and ultimately heartbreak verses redemption.  Every second of the plot added more and more enrichment to the story.  We were never bored, not even for a second.  Yu and Mikaela were so easily loved and felt for while the vampires were so easy to hate.  The characters were all unique and had such diverse personalities that you just had to love them.  We were really tempted to go up and hug little Mikaela through the pages.  How could you even resist?  The art by Yamato Yamamoto was stunning.  Beautiful and capturing the story perfectly, it's definitely not a secret that everyone would envy his drawing skills.  We felt the pain that Yu did through Kagami and Yamamoto's collaborative work.  Together, they're one big genius!  It's impossible to describe how amazing this manga was or how much we loved it.  There are no words to possibly say what we thought about it.

Yu was complex and full of baggage right from the start.  The instant he was introduced, you realized how great his character was.  The switch between his past and present in the beginning of the book was brilliant and well done.  The love we felt for this book almost made us want to keep it even though it was from the library.  Of course, we didn't, but maybe we'll get the chance to buy it someday.  It's definitely rereading material.  The only thing about Seraph of the End was that we easily predicted the  ending of the book before we were even halfway through it.  However, this didn't stop us from devouring the rest of it.  The ending was still amazing and left us ranting about how we needed the next one for days on end.  We are definitely looking forward to how the author is going to deal with this predictable scenario and make it his own through various and unique creative directions.  If you're a manga addict like us, especially if it's in the vampire area, read it!!!!!  If you love vampires, read it!!!!  You just have have to pick it up!!!!!!!!

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