Mini-reviews – The Death Cure and Neverwhere

The Death Cure (Maze Runner, #3)The Death Cure by James Dashner
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

This third book in The Maze Runner trilogy was, thankfully, a good conclusion to the series. After severely disliking the second book, I was nervous to pick up The Death Cure, but luckily for me Dashner turned it around and I was pleasantly surprised by the final installment. What made me happiest about this novel is that, for the most part, answers about this world and why things are the way they are were provided. Also, several of the relationships between characters were solidified to my satisfaction. It’s difficult to review a third book in a series for fear of spoiling the other two books, so I won’t say much else. But the ending was interesting – I thought things were all tied up, but when I was talking to a friend about it, she thought something completely different, which would have meant that Dashner ended the whole thing with an ambiguous twist. So I’m still puzzling over that. Thoughts from those of you who have read the series? Email me if you want!

NeverwhereNeverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks

This paranormal fantasy stuff isn’t usually my thing, but I’ll read just about anything for one of my book clubs, so here we are. Hmm. What to say about Neverwhere? I don’t know that I appreciated it as much as I should have. I feel like Neil Gaiman is this epic author, a guy who has tons of fans and millions of people absolutely adore his books and think he’s a genius, yet I don’t know that I necessarily got what was so special about this novel. Sure, I am overwhelmed by the creativity at work here. This is an entirely new world Gaiman dreamed up and communicated to the reader in amazing detail in just one novel – a pretty incredible feat, in my opinion. I was invested in the main character’s fate and very intrigued by the world Gaiman created. While I was entertained while reading Neverwhere, I never had the experience that I just could not put the book down. I liked this book, it was different from what I usually read and therefore a fun departure from that, but not much else. It wasn’t earth-shattering by any means, at least not for me. What else should I read by Gaiman to get a full picture of his brilliance? Because, sadly, Neverwhere didn’t exactly convince me.

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!

 

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!

 

Mini-reviews of Recent NetGalley finds: Glitter and Glue, Above, and The Haven

Glitter and GlueGlitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan
Published by Ballantine Books
Review copy received from NetGalley

This quote, from the publisher’s summary, I think sums up the book extremely well.

This is a book about the difference between travel and life experience, stepping out and stepping up, fathers and mothers. But mostly it’s about who you admire and why, and how that changes over time.

While this memoir is sort of about Corrigan’s relationship with her mother (the “glue” to her father’s “glitter”), it’s about so much more than that. Corrigan details a summer she spent as a nanny for an Australian family who had just lost their mother to cancer, and how this experience brought her so much closer to her own mother than she had ever thought possible – as she was basically a stand-in mother to these two children. It’s about how having her own children enriched her life in ways beyond her wildest dreams and how the experience of raising her girls put into perspective just how important her own mother had been for her entire life. Glitter and Glue is a short book but was so emotionally affecting for me. I absolutely loved this one and cannot possibly more highly recommend it. It’s beautifully written and so unflinchingly honest, a must-read for anyone who has a mother or is a mother – whether these relationships are fantastic or horrific, I think you will find something of value in this gorgeous book.

AboveAbove by Isla Morley
Published by Gallery Books
Review copy provided by NetGalley

At sixteen years old, Blythe is kidnapped from a community event in her hometown of Eudora, Kansas, by Dobbs, who’d been watching her for years. Dobbs is a survivalist and takes Blythe to an abandoned missile silo, where he believes the two of them will wait out the apocalypse and repopulate the earth afterwords. Years pass, she becomes a mother, and yet she never gives up on her dream of going above the missile silo and home to her family.

Let me just tell you that this novel turned out to be a lot different from I was expecting – and that’s a good thing. The first half of the book is exactly what the summary describes – Blythe and Dobbs together in this missile silo, him going up every few weeks for supplies and such, her trapped in this awful place, all the while trying to make a life for her son despite their total lack of anything resembling freedom. It even dragged on a bit for me in the middle, because I couldn’t possibly imagine what ELSE could happen to them – I got it, she was bored, she was taking care of her son, now what? Well, that “now what” piece is what is so amazing about this novel. The middle completely changes the game and what follows is an entirely different novel. Above is truly an incredible piece of fiction and while it wasn’t exactly the PERFECT book for me, it blew me away and so surprised me that I must recommend it.

The HavenThe Haven by Carol Lynch Williams
Published by St. Martin’s Giffin
Review copy provided by NetGalley

Put simply, The Haven is about teens living at this hospital, where everything about their lives is closely monitored – their sleep, food intake, exercise, education, everything. They also take a Tonic several times a day that eliminates, or at least protects against, the Disease that they are in danger of getting. Shiloh is different from the rest of the kids there, as she has memories she’s not supposed to have. These memories lead her down a path of trying to understand why they are there, and if there’s a possibility to escape.

Here’s the issue I have with this book: it feels like a total copycat of a VERY popular and extremely well-written adult book I love. If I tell you which book, it will spoil the entire premise of The Haven, so email me if you want to know. Even though this novel is well-written, the characters are unique and I liked them a lot, I couldn’t get past the fact that it felt like a watered-down version of a book I’d already read and loved. So maybe this would be better for teens, or for those adults who haven’t already seen this story play out in another novel, but for me that too-obvious connection sort of ruined the whole thing.

Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau

Independent Study (The Testing, #2)Independent Study by Joelle Charbonneau
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers

Publisher’s summary:

In the series debut The Testing, sixteen-year-old Cia Vale was chosen by the United Commonwealth government as one of the best and brightest graduates of all the colonies . . . a promising leader in the effort to revitalize postwar civilization. In Independent Study, Cia is a freshman at the University in Tosu City with her hometown sweetheart, Tomas—and though the government has tried to erase her memory of the brutal horrors of The Testing, Cia remembers. Her attempts to expose the ugly truth behind the government’s murderous programs put her—and her loved ones—in a world of danger. But the future of the Commonwealth depends on her.

I really loved the first book in this series so I was anxious to get my hands on this, the second installment in what is a planned trilogy. I have no complaints about Independent Study – it fulfilled all of the hopes I had for the book and I loved it just as much as the first one.

I’m honestly going to pretty much stop there because if you’ve read the first book, I highly recommend you pick up the second one. If you haven’t read the first, there’s no point in me going over what I liked so much about the second one. If you haven’t started this series, you need to. There’s a kick-ass main character, a future world that is beautiful on the outside but is very sinister below the surface, lots of action and intrigue, and good writing. And NO LOVE TRIANGLE! So … what are you waiting for? Read this series! I have nothing further to say. :)

Mini-reviews – wrapping up 2013 reading part 2

And here are the final four books I read this year and haven’t reviewed.

The LowlandThe Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri – I absolutely loved Lahiri’s short story collections and her first novel, The Namesake, so I was beyond excited for this one. The writing is just as gorgeous as I knew it would be, and she sure can tell a story about strained family dynamics. It gave me a glimpse into politics in India in the 1960’s, a place and time I know very little about. As I was reading, I felt deeply connected to the characters, to these two brothers who were so close as children but grew so far apart in adulthood. The novel is brimming with tragedies, but it never felt heavy-handed, it felt like a true family saga in which the family is struck with bad luck, bad choices, and inability to find peace. I loved The Lowland even though it didn’t quite live up to her earlier books for me – I still gave it five stars! That should tell you how much this author can do no wrong in my eyes.

Allegiant (Divergent, #3)Allegiant by Veronica Roth – This was one of my most highly anticipated books of this year and overall I did like it. I found the plot to be a bit meandering at times in the middle but the end was satisfying. A lot of people didn’t like the way Roth chose to end the series but I personally thought it was absolutely perfect. After closing the book, I just can’t imagine another way she could have resolved things for these characters. I’m really looking forward to the movie series now!

The Silent WifeThe Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison – This was a book club pick and one I would have read anyway because I was so compelled by the premise. I was expecting to be taken for a ride and I was not disappointed. The one thing everyone at my book club could agree on was that we hated all of the characters. They are selfish, immature, and have zero redeeming qualities to speak of. But despite that I couldn’t put this book down. I read furiously til the end, desperate to know how things would turn out for these despicable people. And the ending was a complete shock and was kind of genius actually. I really liked this one.

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow (Marie Antoinette, #2)Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey – This is a sequel to a book I really loved (Becoming Marie Antoinette) but I have to admit that this one disappointed me. Marie Antoinette came across as incredibly selfish, spoiled, caring little for the people around her and only seeking out her own pleasure. She was so detached from the realities of life beyond Versailles that truthfully it disgusted me. I gained a bit more interest when she begun having children but overall this book was not what I was hoping for. The final book in the trilogy was recently released and honestly I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to it.

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau

The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review copy received at SIBA

Malencia Vale is days away from her high school graduation, and is desperately hoping to be selected for The Testing at graduation day. The Testing accepts only the most intelligent and talented students to compete in a several-weeks long program to determine who among them will be selected to become future leaders of Cia’s society, the United Commonwealth. To her great relief, Cia is chosen for The Testing, and heads off to Tosu City. As her father participated in The Testing years ago, she brings his words of advice with her to what she hopes will be an exciting, although scary, process. What Cia finds is nothing like what she expected, as she embarks on the most dangerous and important journey of her entire life.

I didn’t pay too much attention to this title when it was featured at SIBA, mostly because I hadn’t heard of the author and, let’s face it, there are about a million YA dystopias these days competing for my attention. But I did see Charbonneau on a panel that week, and she was funny and bright and even sang opera for us! I later learned that she’s made a name for herself writing cozy mysteries (not my thing) but I’d heard from other bloggers that her writing is really quite good. So I figured, what the heck, and picked up The Testing just before its release date this week.

And holy shit! This book shocked me. It shocked me with how compelling, how completely unputdownable, how well-written, and how GOOD it was. I fell into the story immediately and felt that I knew Cia incredibly well after just a few chapters. The events that took place during The Testing were shocking, yes, but in just the right way – still almost believable.

This book reminded me a LOT of The Hunger Games, and I think a lot of people will have that reaction to it, which can be a great thing. But it might be seen as a negative, too, so let me tell you that I found the concept of this book to be much more believable than that of Hunger Games. Basically the premise is this: humans caused war and destruction for many years, mostly because the world leaders weren’t strong enough, or smart enough, or creative enough to prevent and/or stop it. So in this new world, the world leaders will be carefully selected and tested in the hopes of avoiding all that war and destruction that plagued the generations of the past. To me, this makes a lot of sense and I can actually see where there is some truth to it.

So, let me give you a quick run-down of why I loved The Testing. Creative concept? Check. Great characters? Check. Fast-paced, incredibly compelling story? Check. PERFECT ending that left me begging for the next book? Check. Basically, this was almost a perfect book to me and one that I won’t stop recommending. I’m super excited for this series and very hopeful that it will continue in its greatness or even (dare I say) get better. I would call this one a must-read.