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.

Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2)Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
Published by Feiwel and Friends

From the publisher:

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

I’m not sure how I feel about this series overall. Let me start by saying that I liked the first book, Cinder, but upon finishing it I totally forgot almost the whole thing. Which should tell you that maybe I didn’t like it as much as I thought I did? The fact that I barely remembered the events in the first book led me to take forever to get to this one, and it was rough in the beginning because of said lack of knowledge about events in the first book. Once I got into the vibe of Scarlet, and realized there are two storylines here, two main characters to root for, I got sucked in and really started to enjoy it.

Scarlet as a character interested me slightly more than Cinder had, she just seemed a little less naive and a slightly more of a kick-butt, sure of herself heroine. Although there are apparently tons of things neither of them understands or knows about, as they individually learn over the course of the novel. I liked the dual storylines because it kept me invested in both girls – just when one was getting kind of crazy, Meyer would switch over to the other girl, keeping me flipping pages, anxious to get back to that crazy part in the other girl’s life. It was a good storytelling device and I hope she uses it in the rest of the series.

But I don’t know – although the novel was certainly entertaining, I think these books are somewhat silly and now that I’ve finished book number two I can’t say I’m anxious to get to book number three, Cress. It’s like – I enjoyed it while reading but now that I finished the book, I’m kind of over it. I think someone would have to tell me that they get even better with the third installment for me to be interested in picking it up. Thoughts?

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
Published bySourcebooks
Review copy provided by the publisher via SheReads

Nicola Marter has a gift, a rare talent that she keeps hidden from most people she knows: when she touches an object, she can see its history – where it came from, who else has touched it, everything. When she meets a woman trying to sell a small wooden bird, called “The Firebird”, claiming it was once the property of Russia’s Empress Catherine, she knows immediately upon holding the object that the woman is correct. But there’s no proof. So Nicola enlists the help of an old friend and former flame, Rob, and the two of them go on a journey to find just the proof Nicola needs to enable this desperate woman the ability to sell The Firebird for what it’s truly worth.

I’m so thankful to the ladies at She Reads for picking The Firebird for our July selection! I’ve been wanting to read Susanna Kearsley for what seems like forever, and this was the exact push I needed to finally pick up one of her novels. And let me tell you, The Firebird absolutely lived up to the high expectations I had about Kearsley’s work.

There’s something so beautiful about the way Kearsley blends history, fantasy, and romance seamlessly, leaving me wondering why more authors don’t attempt this kind of novel. I truly haven’t ever read anything like it – it’s an impeccably researched, solid piece of historical fiction, with a huge brush of the fantastical element drawn through it, with the perfect amount of romance for good measure. After finishing this novel, the one thing I know for sure is that I will be reading more of Kearsley’s books to continue enjoying her unique style.

I really liked these characters. Anna, the historical character, begins the novel as a child and grows up tremendously over the course of the book, giving the reader a great opportunity to get to know and fall in love with her. And that’s exactly what I did – she charmed me from the start and I couldn’t help but root for her to find the love and comfort of a true home by the time the novel was over.

And Nicola! I just liked her so much. There’s a point towards the end of the novel where she makes an important choice, a choice about who she wants to be in the world and about not letting others define her, and I was just so proud of her in that moment. It was like I invested all this time and energy into her character, so when she showed true growth as a human being at that point, I was just so happy to be a part of that journey.

I’ve seen a few reviewers who didn’t appreciate the present-day romance that Kearsley threw in the novel, but I have to say that I disagree with them. I actually liked the romance a lot – it didn’t seem overdone or too much at all, it was the perfect amount of tension and it culminated in a very satisfying way. For me, this element simply enhanced what was already a great story.

So The Firebird really worked for me! And I’m so pleased about that because I’ve been eyeing Kearsley’s books for so long now. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, romance, and/or for those who like slightly fantastical elements in books. It’s a great story with great characters and great writing. What’s not to love?

Spell Bound by Rachel Hawkins

Spell Bound by Rachel Hawkins
Published by Hyperion Books

Spell Bound is the third book in the Hex Hall series. Here’s my review of Hex Hall, and here’s my review of Demonglass, the second book in the series. As you can see, I loved both of those books and was really excited to get to the final book in the series, Spell Bound.

Unfortunately, I didn’t love this book like I wanted to. Maybe it was my mood – I started it and put it down about five times before I made myself read the thing, which tells you I wasn’t really in the mood for this kind of book. I was sort of just over it, bored by the entire book. Which is so annoying, because I really liked this series! But I just couldn’t get into this final installment.

I did like how Hawkins ended the book but the bulk of it felt unnecessary and too much of the same. Maybe it’s just me, but I could barely make myself finish it. I still appreciated Sophie as a character and I enjoyed the world that Hawkins created. I’m sad to say that I didn’t love the end of this trilogy but I would still recommend it because of how  much I enjoyed the first two books.

It probably was just my mood, honestly! Oh well. Can’t win them all.

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin
Review copy provided by the publisher

From the publisher:

Deborah Harkness exploded onto the literary scene with her debut novel, A Discovery of Witches, Book One of the magical All Souls Trilogy and an international publishing phenomenon. The novel introduced Diana Bishop, Oxford scholar and reluctant witch, and the handsome geneticist and vampire Matthew Clairmont; together they found themselves at the center of a supernatural battle over an enchanted manuscript known as Ashmole 782.

Now, picking up from A Discovery of Witches’ cliffhanger ending, Shadow of Night plunges Diana and Matthew into Elizabethan London, a world of spies, subterfuge, and a coterie of Matthew’s old friends, the mysterious School of Night that includes Christopher Marlowe and Walter Raleigh. Here, Diana must locate a witch to tutor her in magic, Matthew is forced to confront a past he thought he had put to rest, and the mystery of Ashmole 782 deepens.

Deborah Harkness has crafted a gripping journey through a world of alchemy, time travel, and magical discoveries, delivering one of the most hotly anticipated novels of the season.

I really enjoyed the first book in Harkness’ All Souls trilogy, A Discovery of Witches [my review], so I was anxious to get to this second installment. I was happy to discover that I enjoyed Shadow of Night just as much as (maybe more than) the first novel in this series.

This book picks up right where the first left off, so if you are foggy on the details of the first novel I suggest you go back and reread the last few chapters before moving on. The action in this book is even more amped-up than in the first book, and the reader is introduced to LOTS of new characters. In addition, much more is learned of Matthew’s history and why his personality has developed into what it has over the many, many years he’s been alive.

I enjoyed the relationship between Diana and Matthew much more in this book than in the first. Matthew is much more relaxed about things, treats Diana more like her own person and less like his property that he needs to protect, and their connection grows deeper still over the course of this book. It was much more believable, to be honest, and I actually started to really like Matthew.

Much is learned over the course of this book and I don’t want to say much else about it for fear of spoiling something important. I am even more invested in these characters and their fates now than I was after finishing the first book, and now I’m incredibly anxious for the third one! If you enjoyed A Discovery of Witches, you must read Shadow of Night.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of WitchesA Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Published by Viking Adult, an imprint of Penguin

From the publisher:

A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together. 

Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

I am here to add my voice to the chorus of those who say that A Discovery of Witches is a fantastic read. I went into this book with a little bit of trepidation, I was afraid I wouldn’t love it as everyone else seemed to, but I needn’t have worried because this novel was such a fun adventure, so well-written, and the characters just leap off the page. Fantastic.

I have to admit, it took me a little bit to get into the story when I first picked up the book, but once I was involved enough in Diana’s life, I was swept away and loved every minute. Harkness’ writing is excellent and she is a truly talented story-teller. I was never bored while reading this chunkster, and in fact I had an extremely difficult time putting the book down.

One thing bugged me a bit, and that is the possessiveness of Matthew and Diana’s relationship. What is it with vampires in fiction being overly controlling? I don’t get it, and I definitely felt like it didn’t mesh with Diana’s personality to be in a relationship with this controlling, possessive tone. I am hoping that this will calm down a bit in the second and third books.

Other than that, though, I truly enjoyed every minute I spent with A Discovery of Witches. It has everything – fantasy, history, romance, action – and it is a book that is not to be missed.

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

HungerHunger by Jackie Morse Kessler
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Lisabeth is your average seventeen-year-old, living a perfectly normal life, except for the fact that she is severely anorexic and suffers from debilitating depression in her obsession with food and staying thin. When Death knocks on her door and tells her she’s been appointed to be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Famine), she is pretty sure she’s hallucinating. That is, until her steed – a black horse who lives outside her house and can be seen only by Lisabeth – summons her and she climbs upon his back to begin spreading hunger, as is her new role.  While on her journeys, Lisabeth begins to understand the consequences of real hunger which gives her insight into her own disorder, and she starts to see how she’s destroying her body and her life by starving herself.

The concept behind Hunger is a very creative one: an anorexic girl has to become one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and go around the world seeing how devastating famine truly is. Unfortunately, I didn’t particularly enjoy the execution of said original and interesting concept. I think the book could have been excellent but honestly, it just fell flat for me.

I think it was just too strange for me to have such a fantastical concept mixed in with a realistic situation of an anorexic girl. It was a great idea, like I said, but it didn’t play out well on the page. I couldn’t get involved with the story because I was left with so many questions. Other readers might be able to just relax and enjoy the story without trying to understand the why behind everything, but in this case I was not able to do that. This might have stemmed from the fact that the book was very short – it just didn’t give me enough time to really understand and absorb what was going on.

The other issue I had with the novel is that I couldn’t latch onto Lisabeth as a character, couldn’t care about her at all. You would think it would be easy for me to care about a teenager clearly suffering from this disease – I mean she was very clearly in pain from her anorexia – but I couldn’t. I don’t know if it was (again) because of the length of the book, or because of how Lisabeth was written, but whatever the reason I was not invested in her at all. Which, as I’m sure you can imagine, made it difficult for me to get into the story.

While I loved the concept behind Hunger, I was sad to see that it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped in its execution. This book is the first in a series and I’m not planning to continue on with the series because I just did not enjoy this one very much. While I can’t recommend Hunger, Kessler certainly had a clever idea in writing it so I definitely give her props for that.

Another edition of mini-reviews!

Sorry I’ve been so absent from the blog, folks.  My husband’s grandmother was visiting us from Chicago over the Thanksgiving weekend, and while we did enjoy an absolutely delicious dinner at my in-laws, it was a long day (they live almost 2 hours away) and I had to work the rest of the weekend.  Sunday is normally my blogging day, but we took Grandma to Sea World instead (she LOVED it, btw).  So, I continue to have a backlog of books to review, and in an attempt to cull that number I figured I’d throw out some more minis!

Imperfect Birds by Anne Lamott was an impulse library audiobook grab, mainly because I’d been meaning to read Lamott for years and I’d heard good things about her latest novel.  The novel brings to life seventeen-year-old Rosie Ferguson and her parents, Elizabeth and James.  Rosie is a typical teen, dealing with high school, crushes, and best friends, while at the same time a full-on addict who has never met a drug she didn’t like. Imperfect Birds chronicles Elizabeth and James’ struggles to help Rosie get sober, and Rosie’s complete refusal to do so.  I ended up enjoying this book, Lamott’s writing is clear and beautiful, I absolutely took to her style and can see myself enjoying many more of her books.  I did feel the plot of the novel was a bit redundant, it just seemed like nothing changed for a long, long part of the book – I was beginning to get a little bored.  However, it picked up and I did find myself anxious to find out how everything would end up for this family.  The book is heavily character-driven, so if you enjoy those types of books, I’d recommend Imperfect Birds.

The Sister by Poppy Adams is one of those books I’d been meaning to read forever, and finally forced myself to do so.  I was somewhat disappointed in this one as I was expecting a lot – it’s about two elderly sisters, Ginny and Vivien, who haven’t seen one another in 50 years and finally reunite in the house they grew up in – but it didn’t quite measure up to what I was hoping for.  It had a gothic, spooky feel to it, and it was clear that Ginny, the sister who told the story, was an unreliable narrator, but that was about all I liked about it.  Ginny studied moths for a living, and all the moth-talk got extremely boring very fast, to the point where I’d skip pages to get back to the “real” story.  The story of how the sisters grew up and all the family drama was interesting, and the ending had a nice twist to it, but overall I didn’t enjoy this one too much.

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare is the second book in the Mortal Instruments series, and while I was lukewarm about the first book, I definitely liked this one.  I still don’t think that I’ll ever rank these books as a favorite series, but I was definitely more entertained by this book than the first one.  Probably because I got to know the characters more, but whatever the reason, I liked it.  Clary continues to be a character I enjoy and root for, and the dynamics of this world continue to surprise and entertain me.  I’m definitely excited for the third book in the series, which I have sitting on my shelf right now, just waiting for me!

I’ve been on an Emily Giffin kick lately, so when I picked up Baby Proof I was hoping my streak of enjoying her books would continue – which it did!  Thirty-five-year-old Claudia and her husband Ben made a deal when they got married:  no kids.  But when Ben suddenly changes his mind about this, three blissful years into their marriage, Claudia must decide how to handle it – what do you do when everything you’ve known about your life is suddenly turned on its head?  I enjoyed this one just as much as Giffin’s first two novels, if not more even because I could actually relate to the narrator.  I’m not a “no kids” person, but I am a “maybe kids” person; as in my husband and I haven’t yet made up our minds on the subject.  But I could completely understand where Claudia was coming from – in fact, I could relate because before we got married my husband and I had many serious discussions about this very issue.  We both agreed to be open to the idea and to see where life (and God, as we both believe He has a plan for us, but that’s a whole other discussion) takes us.  If we had decided one way or the other, and my husband backed out of the deal, I would be absolutely furious.  So I could totally relate to Claudia, I put myself in her shoes immediately, and consequently I loved the book.  It delivered everything I’ve come to expect from Giffin and the experience of reading it made me very happy. :)

Finally, I just finished Room by Emma Donoghue and I am here to tell you that everything you’ve heard about this book is true:  it really is THAT good.  If you haven’t heard about the book, it’s about a little boy, Jack, who has lived in an eleven-foot by eleven-foot room his entire five years with his mother, Ma.  Ma was kidnapped by their captor, Old Nick, when she was nineteen (she is now twenty-six) and has suffered isolation and nightly rapes, one of which resulted in Jack, for the past seven years.  What’s beautiful about this book is that it is told from Jack’s point of view.  And since Jack has never known a world outside of Room, he is just so innocent and reading his story is absolutely riveting.  Another thing that kept me glued to the book is that I kept putting myself in Ma’s shoes – I am also twenty-six – and I could not even begin to imagine the horror she had experienced, and how she had found the strength within her to raise Jack as best as she possibly could.  I’m telling you, this book is fantastic and I very, very highly recommend it.  It is quite the experience.

That’s all for now – I’ll probably be absent until Sunday, as I have a ton of stuff going on this week (as usual).  Have a good week, everyone!


Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Shiver - Audiobook Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Published by Scholastic

When I decided to pick up Shiver and finally give it a try, I was feeling like I was the last person in the world to read the book.  Now that I’ve finished it, I can see why everyone else has read and loved this book!  It was everything I’d heard it was – basically, fantastic.  I had put off reading Shiver for so long because I was nervous it would be Twilight with werewolves instead of vampires, and thank goodness it is NOT that.  The only thing that is Twilight-esque about Shiver is the whole girl-meets-nonhuman-boy-and-falls-in-love thing; everything else about Shiver is purely original and purely awesome.

Let’s talk about the book, shall we?  For those of you who don’t know much about the plot, Shiver‘s heroine is seventeen-year-old Grace, who has been obsessed with the wolves living behind her house ever since she was attacked by them at age nine.  One wolf in particular has always had a special affection for Grace, even allowing her to pet and hold him one time.  When a local teen is killed by the wolves, a group of hunters attempts to eradicate the town of them for good, and after the shooting, Grace finds an injured boy about her age shivering in the woods.  She takes just one look at him and realizes that this boy, Sam, is her wolf in his human body.

I honestly did not believe that a book about the love between a werewolf boy and a human girl could be this good, this believable, this sweet.  But it totally is all of those things.  The relationship between Grace and Sam developed at such a natural pace I would forget at some points throughout the story that I was reading a fantasy novel and feel instead like I was reading a well-written young adult romance.  The way Stiefvater managed to create these incredibly believable, likeable characters who also happened to be wolves half their lives was just amazing to me.  I mean, I loved Sam.  Had I read this book as a teenager, I would have pined for a Sam of my own.  And he is a wolf!  I am just mildly appalled that I managed to fall so much in love with a wolf!

I also really, really liked Grace.  At the beginning of the book I was feeling like she was a little crazy and a lot strange for being so obsessed with these wolves, but once I got to know Sam and got to know Grace’s story, I liked her more and more.  She came across as such an authentic character, and while I would have wanted Sam for myself as a teen, I would have wanted to be friends with Grace.

I experienced Shiver as an audiobook, and I thought the production was done very well.  Jenna Lamia and David Ledoux did an excellent job channeling the personalities of Grace and Sam and they held my attention throughout the book.  I was disappointed when I realized that my library doesn’t have the sequel, Linger, on audio right now.  I’d love to listen to that one too; however I’ll have to settle for the print version.

In conclusion, Shiver is excellent and I highly recommend it.  Don’t pass it up like I did in fear of it being too similar to other young adult fantasy novels – it is very unique and deserves a class all its own.

Waking the Witch by Kelley Armstrong

Waking the Witch Waking the Witch by Kelley Armstrong
Published by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin

This eleventh novel in Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld series stars twenty-one-year-old Savannah Levine, an orphaned half witch, half sorcerer.  She works for her adoptive parents, Paige and Lucas, at the detective agency they began, and when a case about two murdered young women in a small town is brought to her attention, Savannah can’t resist.  She travels to Columbus, Washington to solve the murders, yet when she gets there she finds signs of supernatural activity around every corner.  She finds herself torn between attempting to go it alone and feeling like she needs help to figure things out, all the while knowing she will do whatever it takes to avenge these women’s’ deaths.

I have to say right off the bat that I haven’t read any of the first ten books in the Otherworld series.  Originally I didn’t want to accept Waking the Witch for review because of this, but the publicist assured me that I wouldn’t have a problem reading this one out of order.  For the most part, she was right, and I was able to jump right into Savannah’s story knowing nothing about her or her lineage.  She was a fully realized, interesting character and I didn’t feel like I needed to know more about her in order to enjoy this story.  However, I can only imagine that if I was more familiar with this world and these characters I may have enjoyed the book more than I did.

As it stands, I liked Waking the Witch well enough.  Savannah came across as a strong, intelligent, but also stubborn – characteristics I must admit to loving in a female main character.  She had this goal of proving herself to her adoptive parents, of showing them that she was capable and smart and old enough to make adult decisions, and she did whatever she could to accomplish that goal.  She broke rules, she found herself in dangerous situations, and she thought with her heart instead of her brain many times because she was so determined to prove herself.  And by the end of the book, she really did prove herself and some of those bad decisions didn’t look so bad once she succeeded.

I liked that Waking the Witch had a mystery at its core, and I found the mystery to be crafted well.  I did not guess the culprit, and I didn’t understand how the supernatural elements would tie into the mystery until all was revealed at the end.  It kept me guessing and kept me on my toes pretty much throughout the entire book.

At the end of the day, though, I didn’t love this novel.  Yes I enjoyed it, but it will certainly not make my favorites list.  I think Kelley Armstrong has a great talent for world-building and I’d be interested to begin her Otherworld series from the beginning.  Waking the Witch was a good reading experience for me, but unfortunately not a great one.