All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the SkyAll the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Published by Tor Books

From the publisher:

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

There were things I liked about this book and things I disliked, but overall I have to say that I was not wowed by All the Birds in the Sky.

In short, I liked the beginning of the book and the end but not so much the middle. The beginning is set during Patricia’s and Laurence’s childhoods, and it reads almost like a YA book. Like a really dark and sad YA book, I guess, as there is abuse, bullying, and a general feeling of darkness that runs alongside the story. There were certainly moments of fun and humor, but neither of the two really had great childhoods, and Anders doesn’t shy away from showing the reader just now not great things were for them. I liked the two of them as kids – they were both awkward, shy, basically two nerds who really connected with each other. Something that bothered me about the beginning, even though I generally liked it, was that the abusive and destructive behavior of several characters was never discussed in-depth or dealt with in any way. There were some scary things that happened to these characters, stuff that was pretty much ignored and never talked about again. It did not ring true for me at all.

The transition in the book from their childhoods to adulthood felt shaky and really took me out of the story. And once we got into adulthood, I almost put the book down several times. It felt to me like it wasn’t going anywhere, like it was rambly and not much was happening and I was just, frankly, bored by it. But there was one point where THINGS start happening, and I drew back into it, and I did really like the last third of the book.

The end of the book really shows the world falling apart, and it was scary but I loved how Anders described the slow unraveling of everything we know to be necessary in modern life. That part reminded me a little bit of Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven. I liked the clashing of science and magic, and I liked how Patricia’s magic wasn’t this huge fantastical thing, but rather a minor element of her personality that came in handy sometimes and in some major ways. There’s also a particular element of the book, it’s a minor plot point but quite a spoiler, that I absolutely loved. One of those connection things that you go “ah!” as you read it.

So overall – not my favorite book, but I did enjoy parts of it. I’m glad I read All the Birds in the Sky and would still consider reading something else written by this author.

Lock In by John Scalzi

Lock In (Lock In, #1)Lock In by John Scalzi
Published by Tor Books

From the publisher:

Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent – and nearly five million souls in the United States alone – the disease causes “Lock In”: Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.

A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what’s now known as “Haden’s syndrome,” rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an “integrator” – someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated.

But “complicated” doesn’t begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery – and the real crime – is bigger than anyone could have imagined. The world of the locked in is changing, and with the change comes opportunities that the ambitious will seize at any cost. The investigation that began as a murder case takes Shane and Vann from the halls of corporate power to the virtual spaces of the locked in, and to the very heart of an emerging, surprising new human culture. It’s nothing you could have expected.

This was my first time reading a book by John Scalzi, and I’m excited to say that I quite enjoyed it! I’ll be looking for more books by him that are equally awesome, so if you can recommend one, please say so in the comments below. Now onto thoughts about Lock In!

The world that Scalzi created here was so intriguing to me. I think these kind of dystopian/futuristic novels are my favorite – ones where it’s entirely conceivable how the world got to where it is, the author gives a background on how and why things are the way they are, and the people in the story have mostly adapted to this new way of life. That’s exactly what we have here – this insane virus changed practically everything about the world these characters inhabit, yet things have basically returned to normal with a few changes. I couldn’t get enough of the details about the Hadens – how they adapted to their new bodies, how the world has changed to make room for them in everyday life, how they have relationships with Hadens and non-Hadens – all of it, I soaked up every single word.

Scalzi does something unique and extremely awesome with gender here. Not once in the entire book is it made clear whether Chris Shane is a man or woman, and the publisher actually put out two different versions of the audiobook – one narrated by a guy (Wil Wheaton) and the other by a girl (Amber Benson). I listened to the Wil Wheaton because I loved him narrating Ready Player One, so to my ears, Chris Shane was male. But I’m assuming if Amber Benson had narrated my book, Chris Shane would have been female to my ears. And I’m super wondering how I would have interpreted it if I’d read the print and made my own assumptions about Chris Shane’s gender. The point? Gender doesn’t matter! And I love this so much, and I want more books that showcase this in a creative way.

The characters in this book are great. Chris Shane is privileged and naive, and learns throughout the course of the book just how privileged and naive, which is a fun journey to watch. Shane’s partner, Vann, is damaged and dark, the kind of person who clearly needs and craves friendship and love but won’t allow herself to deserve it. But she’s also incredibly cunning, clever, and a damn good FBI agent who is a great teacher to Shane. I loved their partnership and their bantering back and forth as they got to know one another.

As far as the mystery itself goes, that was probably the weakest aspect of the book. It wasn’t a huge shocker who committed the murder and why, and I didn’t feel that the lead up to the big reveal was done with a ton of effort on Scalzi’s part. However, I totally didn’t care. I loved this world, the characters, the snappy dialogue, and Wheaton’s narration was the icing on the cake. I would have followed this story anywhere, so the mystery itself was just running alongside everything else that I was really loving about the book. Overall – I loved it!

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. 🙂