The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

The Scorch Trials (Maze Runner, #2)The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
Published by Delacorte Press

From the publisher:

Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end.

Thomas was sure that escape from the Maze would mean freedom for him and the Gladers. But WICKED isn’t done yet. Phase Two has just begun. The Scorch.

There are no rules. There is no help. You either make it or you die.

The Gladers have two weeks to cross through the Scorch—the most burned-out section of the world. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Friendships will be tested. Loyalties will be broken. All bets are off.

There are others now. Their survival depends on the Gladers’ destruction—and they’re determined to survive.

I really liked The Maze Runner but this one? Not so much. Allow me to start with what I did like – the book is almost impossible to put down. There is SO much going on, one thing right after another, you can’t possibly stop at even a chapter break. There is always the hope that after the next obstacle the boys face, new information will be obtained. Something in this crazy world will start to make sense. The new characters that they meet in the Scorch will illuminate something for them. One can only hope.

Unfortunately, I felt like this didn’t happen. It felt, to me, like the author threw a bunch more challenges and setbacks and obstacles at the characters and the story just didn’t move along enough. It was all action and no information – and by the second book in a series, I want some more information. I don’t like feeling THIS in the dark about what’s really going on in a world.

I liked the addition of some new characters, and the complexities added to some of the existing characters’ personalities (Teresa, specifically), but I still wasn’t clear on who these new characters actually are – do they work for WICKED? Do they actually have the Flare? What the heck, Dashner?

I guess for some readers the not knowing is part of the fun of the series. But for me, by the end of book two, the complete lack of information got old. I wanted some answers, and I wanted them right then and there. Guess I’ll have to read the third book to (hopefully) get those answers!

 

Overseas by Beatriz Williams

OverseasOverseas by Beatriz Williams
Published by Putnam Adult

From the publisher:

When twenty-something Wall Street analyst Kate Wilson attracts the notice of the legendary Julian Laurence at a business meeting, no one’s more surprised than she is. Julian’s relentless energy and his extraordinary intellect electrify her, but she’s baffled by his sudden interest. Why would this handsome British billionaire—Manhattan’s most eligible bachelor—pursue a pretty but bookish young banker who hasn’t had a boyfriend since college?

The answer is beyond imagining . . . at least at first. Kate and Julian’s story may have begun not in the moneyed world of twenty-first-century Manhattan but in France during World War I, when a mysterious American woman emerged from the shadows of the Western Front to save the life of Captain Julian Laurence Ashford, a celebrated war poet and infantry officer.

Now, in modern-day New York, Kate and Julian must protect themselves from the secrets of the past, and trust in a true love that transcends time and space.

This book reminded me of The Time Traveler’s Wife in that it is well-written, with good characters, and features time travel and a romance. It’s definitely a wonderful novel in its own right, and is very different from the book I just mentioned, but I wanted to give you an idea of the feel of this book – because those elements make the two pretty similar.

From the moment I picked up Overseas, I was pulled into the story and didn’t want to leave. I liked Kate quite a bit and was just as skeptical as she when Julian was SO into her from the second they met – he felt so strongly for a perfect stranger, at least that’s how it appeared to her (and the reader). Once the plot moves along, though, it becomes clear that things aren’t exactly what they seem and Julian might have reason to feel so deeply for Kate from the onset.

There is a bit of over-protectiveness on Julian’s part that annoyed me – at one point, he and Kate go away together to an isolated cabin for weeks and weeks and he pretty much insists that she stay inside those four walls while he’s at work during the day – but you later find out that he does have a reason for his concern. Still, I didn’t love that aspect of his personality and I mentally applauded Kate when she decided to go against his wishes and spend a day in the city with an old friend.

But truly, this is a beautiful love story at its core and I did enjoy every moment I spent with Overseas. Kate and Julian are very passionate, and the reader can feel their love through the pages. There is a sense of urgency running through the second half of the novel, once the time travel aspect is brought to the surface and it becomes clear that someone or something is out to destroy their relationship. The very end of the novel had me racing through the pages, desperately hoping that all would work out for the two of them.

Reading Overseas was a highly enjoyable experience! I really appreciate everything about Beatriz Williams – her ability to craft an engaging story with plot twists, the way she constructs likable characters, her beautiful writing, and boy can she write a romantic, sexy book! I am looking forward to seeing what else this truly talented author has in store for me in the future.

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

RoomiesRoomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

From the publisher:

When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl’s summer — and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they’ve never met.

I’m a huge fan of Sara Zarr and always read her books, but Tara Altebrando is a new author for me, so I went into this book with a mix of curiosity and excitement. It turned out that these two author’s voices work extremely well together, and the two of them wrote an engaging, fun, adorable novel about that weird time in life between high school and college.

Elizabeth and Lauren are very different people, and over the course of the summer they take the time to get to know one another through email, in the hope that when they begin living together it will be slightly less awkward. I had fun getting to know these two girls and the book brought back powerful memories for me of my own summer between high school and college. It’s such a unique time – full of anxiety, excitement, bittersweet feelings of leaving home for the very first time, all of that and more was captured in Roomies very well.

While the book had a premise that resonated with me and likable characters, I’m finding that I don’t remember a whole lot about it almost a month after reading it. So, I would say this is a very enjoyable read, but not one that really will stick with you. I did like that the last part of the book was just before they met for the first time in their dorm room, leaving it open to a possible second book about their time at college, which I wouldn’t shy away from reading. So, overall, good book but nothing that knocked my socks off.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This is the Story of a Happy MarriageThis is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Published by Harper

From the publisher:

The New York Times bestselling author of State of WonderRun, and Bel Canto creates a resonant portrait of a life in this collection of writings on love, friendship, work, and art.

“The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living.”

So begins This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, an examination of the things Ann Patchett is fully committed to—the art and craft of writing, the depths of friendship, an elderly dog, and one spectacular nun. Writing nonfiction, which started off as a means of keeping her insufficiently lucrative fiction afloat, evolved over time to be its own kind of art, the art of telling the truth as opposed to the art of making things up. Bringing her narrative gifts to bear on her own life, Patchett uses insight and compassion to turn very personal experiences into stories that will resonate with every reader.

These essays twine to create both a portrait of life and a philosophy of life. Obstacles that at first appear insurmountable—scaling a six-foot wall in order to join the Los Angeles Police Department, opening an independent bookstore, and sitting down to write a novel—are eventually mastered with quiet tenacity and a sheer force of will. The actual happy marriage, which was the one thing she felt she wasn’t capable of, ultimately proves to be a metaphor as well as a fact: Patchett has devoted her life to the people and ideals she loves the most.

I don’t even know what to say about this gorgeous book of essays. First, I will say that Patchett was already one of my favorite authors (Bel Canto being one of my favorite books ever), but having now experienced her nonfiction as well as her fiction, she cemented her place as one of my favorites. I also closed this book and immediately had the urge to buy her entire backlist, as I wanted to experience more of her beautiful words and, in the case of her nonfiction, more of her life experiences.

There’s so much to love in this collection. Her musings on so many aspects of life will speak to just about every reader out there. She has something for everyone here – she talks about building and owning a business, the love she has for her dog, the time she spent as a caregiver for her grandmother, the mistakes she’s made in her career and in her personal life, triumphs in both her career and personal life, and the craft of writing itself, plus more. Patchett is a wise person but also a very real person, someone I connected to and wanted to keep getting to know even after I finished the book.

If you are a fan of Ann Patchett’s, you MUST read this book. If you are not, read it and become a fan. :)

 

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Published by Delacorte Press

From the publisher:

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers–boys whose memories are also gone.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out–and no one’s ever made it through alive.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

The first two volumes in this trilogy have been sitting on my bookshelf for what feels like forever, but it was a combination of it being a book club pick and the movie coming out soon that got me to finally read it. Overall, I was pretty impressed by this dystopian novel that is like nothing I’ve read before.

What’s different about The Maze Runner is that you know absolutely nothing about this world for pretty much the entire book, along with our main character, Thomas. Thomas and the rest of his new friends in the Glade (aka Gladers) have no memories of their time before the Glade, and they have no knowledge of what exactly their purpose is in the Glade. They think they have to figure out a way out of this huge maze, but they’re just guessing, really – and as the book goes on, it seems more and more likely that there’s no possible way out of the maze. And if they’re not supposed to get out of the maze, what could possibly be the point of their existence?

The reader, and Thomas, glean a little understanding of that very question by the end of the book, but things are left extremely fuzzy and there are still a ton of unanswered questions. At my book club meeting, we had a LOT to discuss because there is so much that you can speculate based on the lack of real information Dashner gives the reader about what’s going on here.

I thought that the pacing of the book was just perfect for this kind of novel. I couldn’t put the book down, anxious as I was to get some answers. I also liked Thomas as a character although it bugged me how quickly he figured things out in this world when it took the other Gladers forever just to get their bearings. I guess that’s just supposed to tell us that Thomas is special, somehow. Dashner did a good job developing his characters and creating very distinct personalities among all of these boys.

I liked The Maze Runner a lot and I definitely recommend it!

 

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner

All Fall DownAll Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner
Published by Atria Books
Review copy provided by Netgalley

From the publisher:

Allison Weiss is a typical working mother, trying to balance a business, aging parents, a demanding daughter, and a marriage. But when the website she develops takes off, she finds herself challenged to the point of being completely overwhelmed. Her husband’s becoming distant, her daughter’s acting spoiled, her father is dealing with early Alzheimer’s, and her mother’s barely dealing at all. As she struggles to hold her home and work life together, and meet all of the needs of the people around her, Allison finds that the painkillers she was prescribed for a back injury help her deal with more than just physical discomfort—they help her feel calm and get her through her increasingly hectic days. Sure, she worries a bit that the bottles seem to empty a bit faster each week, but it’s not like she’s some Hollywood starlet partying all night, or a homeless person who’s lost everything. It’s not as if she has an actual problem.

However, when Allison’s use gets to the point that she can no longer control—or hide—it, she ends up in a world she never thought she’d experience outside of a movie theater: rehab. Amid the teenage heroin addicts, the alcoholic grandmothers, the barely-trained “recovery coaches,” and the counselors who seem to believe that one mode of recovery fits all, Allison struggles to get her life back on track, even as she’s convincing herself that she’s not as bad off as the women around her.

Jennifer Weiner is one of my go-to authors – as soon as I know she has a new book out, I’m on it. It was obvious to me that I would read All Fall Down no matter what I heard about it, but the fact that I’ve heard nothing but good things didn’t hurt. I’m happy to say that this novel falls within the range of some of her very best books, and its darker, more serious edge makes it a little different from what she usually does. It’s always fun when a much-beloved author switches things up a bit, especially when the change is for the better.

When a book focuses almost exclusively on one main character, and that character makes deplorable choices, it can be tricky for an author to get the reader to connect to the character and make the reader interested enough in the character’s journey to keep reading. Well, apparently this is not very tricky for Weiner because she nailed it. While Allison is selfish and so deep in her addiction she barely registers the needs of those around her (including her own child), I couldn’t help but root for her to get better. Watching her self-destruct and spiral down into a haze of pain pills was heartbreaking but I continued to hope for the best and have the belief that she would eventually snap out of it and realize the damage she was causing to herself and everyone who loved her.

Another thing Weiner totally nailed is addiction itself. I know exactly how, to the addict, the only thing that matters is the next fix, how the addicted brain is convinced that if only you get one more fix, the next day is the day you will easily quit, easily give up the addiction for the happy life you are desperate for. But the next morning, you wake up, need another fix, and the cycle starts over again. Weiner completely got this. Allison’s life was a vicious cycle of taking too many pills, deciding to quit, and taking too many pills again.

Allison’s journey to healing was done so well, too. Addiction is messy and scary and sad and heartbreaking and Weiner got all of that, but she also got how hopeful and beautiful recovery can be. I believed in Allison, in her ability to get better, in the hope and promise that her future held, and I believed that she saw that too. She was incredibly realistic, which made her recovery that much better and more exciting for this reader.

All Fall Down is Jennifer Weiner at her best. Highly recommended.

More Than This by Patrick Ness

More Than ThisMore Than This by Patrick Ness
Published by Walker Books Ltd

From the publisher:

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies.

Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive.

How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place?

As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

From multi-award-winning Patrick Ness comes one of the most provocative and moving novels of our time.

Who here loved the Chaos Walking trilogy and has been dying for something else from Ness that has that similar feel? *raises hand*

Well, you are in luck because More Than This is that book. This is a gorgeous novel about stuff that I don’t even want to tell you because that will just spoil it. But I will tell you that it has that same sense of urgency, that same OMG SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN feeling that runs through the entire Chaos Walking trilogy. Like all Patrick Ness books, this book is saying something, and by the end of the novel you will get it loud and clear. But to explain what, exactly, is happening here would ruin the experience. So I won’t.

Ness writes in such a way that causes the reader to truly feel the emotions the characters are feeling. He causes the reader to question his/her own life – how what we think and feel is filtered through our own limited experiences and how our memories are shaped not just by what happened but by the emotions we associate with those events. And he makes the reader wonder – how would we react and respond to a situation the characters in this book are faced with? Would we do the right thing or would we panic, save ourselves, and make choices with devastating consequences?

Please read this book. It is truly fantastic.