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.