Book Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The maze Runner by James Dashner.jpgTitle: The Maze Runner
Author: James Dashner
Series: The Maze Runner, Book 1
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Hardcover: 384 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

If you ain’t scared, you ain’t human.

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.

Nice to meet ya, shank. Welcome to the Glade.

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.

Everything is going to change.

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

Remember. Survive. Run.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This book started interesting me, of course, when the movie came out. I usually staunchly refuse to see any book-based movies before I read the book, but my parents broke me down when they marketed going to the movies as a “family event,” so I didn’t get to reading it beforehand, which meant it got pushed way down my to-read list. When the Pokemon Go challenge came up and had a hyped-up book category, I decided to finally get this off my to-read list and see how the book compared to its film version.

My first reaction is that it’s different in surprising ways. I won’t ruin it for people who have yet to read it, but the problem the way they solve the maze in the novel is a bit more complex and the ending is just the littlest bit different. The characters also had a bit of a different flavor to them, but I think that’s true for anything when your imagination is supplying interpretations rather than an actor. The one character whose introduction and personality is remarkably different is Teresa, which I thought pretty interesting. In the movie, she’s fierce to the point of being rabid when she’s introduced — in the movie, she’s calm and very rarely loses her temper. I’m not sure what this says about cinema portrayal of females or the people who adapted the book for the film, but it’s an interesting difference.

Regardless of the changes, I feel the same way about this book as I do about the movie: It’s fine. I don’t hate it, I don’t love it, and the plot is mostly interesting, though I hope future books provide a lot more growth and development from the characters. The way things were set up in this first book, it was mostly about discovering who they were themselves, so they remained mostly stagnant throughout. Without having read the sequels, it’s not something I can firmly recommend, but I am looking forward to reading the sequels — hopefully they deliver.

Book Review: Freedom’s Landing by Anne McCaffrey

Freedoms Landing by Anne McCaffrey.jpgTitle: Freedom’s Landing
Author: Anne McCaffrey
Series: Catteni, Book 1
Publisher: Ace
Hardcover: 342 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The alien Catteni have attacked earth, emptying cities for slave labor. And other things.

Kris Bjornsen has been taken captive and finds herself dumped with many others on an empty planet–but one of the Catteni masters missed his ride back. Now Kris takes on a leadership role and has to help figure out how to protect these people and also what to do with the Catteni trapped on this plane with them.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

It has been way too long since I’ve read Anne McCaffrey, and how I have missed her. This series has been on my to-read list for years and years, so when the ReadThemAll challenge came up, hosted by Read At Midnight, I knew that I needed to use this as my Boulder Badge entry.

This book was slow going for me for most of the beginning. The very beginning was super interesting, where we meet Kris and learn about how she’s been kidnapped from Earth and is basically a slave to the Catteni, but when she gets dumped on the empty planet with Zainal, a rogue Catteni who landed himself in some trouble with his own people, I struggled a lot. Once everything got explained and set up, it was fine, but the first 80 pages or so were a slog for me.

With that said, I’ve really missed McCaffrey’s science fiction — this is the science fiction I grew up with and I have missed it so, so much. In terms of pure story, it’s wonderful, with the survival/colonization/new planet discovery aspect, with the characters discovering new technology and constantly finding themselves in danger they didn’t realize was around. It’s super realistic in terms of the characters needing to figure out what they need to have a balanced diet, how they’re going to handle hygiene and sickness, etc.

In terms of larger themes, McCaffrey has insightful and incisive commentary on race relations based on how other aliens are treated by humans, even though they’re also Catteni slaves and put in the same situation as humans — sometimes even with fewer tools and privileges for survival, like needing special nutrients for their diet that just aren’t really easy to get on the planet they’re trapped on.

One of the things I most appreciated about this novel was the way romances very slowly and organically came about. There was no, “Oh my god s/he is so hot and I need to have her right now, even though we’re all struggling to even just eat on this new planet,” which is sadly too common in some novels. Whenever romance popped up, it made sense in the context, and there was no sex for the sake of sex during times that didn’t really make any sense. Perfectly done and I wish I read more stories that were able to handle it so realistically.

Overall, this is a solid start to a science fiction series that I’m looking forward to continuing, and for those who like survivalist stories with a science fiction edge, or even just McCaffrey fans, you should give it a read!

Review: Watchmen by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins

Watchmen.jpgTitle: Watchmen
Author: Alan Moore
Illustrator/Letterer: Dave Gibbons
Colorist: John Higgins
Publisher: DC Comics
Hardcover: 416 pages
Source: Owned
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

This Hugo Award-winning graphic novel chronicles the fall from grace of a group of super-heroes plagued by all-too-human failings. Along the way, the concept of the super-hero is dissected as the heroes are stalked by an unknown assassin.

One of the most influential graphic novels of all time and a perennial best-seller, Watchmen has been studied on college campuses across the nation and is considered a gateway title, leading readers to other graphic novels such as V for Vendetta, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and The Sandman series.

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

When we first started dating, one of the first questions Andrew asked me was whether or not I’d read Watchmen, which I hadn’t. He was so appalled, we went to a used bookstore the next day and bought the book. It took a while for Andrew’s recommendations to make a regular appearance on my currently-reading cycle, so one year later, here I am, having finally read this amazing novel.

I had mixed feelings about having already seen the movie when going into this. Generally, I refuse to watch any movie based on a book before reading the book, just because I don’t want my experience to be tainted by the director’s or cinematographer’s idea of how things should look. In this case, it was a little better, because the images are supplied through drawings and not just my brain, so there is still someone giving me a guide for how the characters and places are supposed to look. I also appreciated that I was given the benefits of a second read-through without first having read it — I was able to pick up on some foreshadowing that I wouldn’t have caught onto had I not experienced the story before, so I enjoyed that a lot.

What is there to say about this novel? It’s amazing. It’s one of the few five-star books I’ve read this year, and it’s because Alan Moore just doesn’t hold back. Watchmen gives a stark look at life and human nature. Yes, it’s set in a fantasy world, but this book tells a lot of truths about how the world works and how people work. I love how there are no true “super” heroes, just people trying to get through life however they feel like they can. Some want glory or fame or really just want to do good, but they’re all incredibly realistic people with a lot of emotional baggage that they bring into their work and their lives.

There are so many literary things to appreciate as well. Parallelism between stories-within-stories (which was probably my favorite thing that the graphic/comic aspect did so much better than words ever could, a wonderful stream-of-consciousness chapter with Dr. Manhattan (again, beautifully drawn), and just so much more. It’s hard to describe the complexity and magnificence of this book, but it’s definitely a must-read for any graphic novel, science fiction, super hero, or literature lovers. The drawings are beautiful, the writing is wonderful, and the story is simply smart. Easily one of my favorite works of fiction.

Book Review: Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Wither by Lauren DeStefano.jpgTitle: Wither
Author: Lauren DeStefano
Series: The Chemical Garden, Book 1
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Hardcover: 358 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library Overdrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

By age sixteen, Rhine Ellery has four years left to live. She can thank modern science for this genetic time bomb. A botched effort to create a perfect race has left all males with a lifespan of 25 years, and females with a lifespan of 20 years. Geneticists are seeking a miracle antidote to restore the human race, desperate orphans crowd the population, crime and poverty have skyrocketed, and young girls are being kidnapped and sold as polygamous brides to bear more children.

When Rhine is kidnapped and sold as a bride, she vows to do all she can to escape. Her husband, Linden, is hopelessly in love with her, and Rhine can’t bring herself to hate him as much as she’d like to. He opens her to a magical world of wealth and illusion she never thought existed, and it almost makes it possible to ignore the clock ticking away her short life. But Rhine quickly learns that not everything in her new husband’s strange world is what it seems. Her father-in-law, an eccentric doctor bent on finding the antidote, is hoarding corpses in the basement. Her fellow sister wives are to be trusted one day and feared the next, and Rhine is desperate to communicate to her twin brother that she is safe and alive. Will Rhine be able to escape–before her time runs out?

Together with one of Linden’s servants, Gabriel, Rhine attempts to escape just before her seventeenth birthday. But in a world that continues to spiral into anarchy, is there any hope for freedom?

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

This came out during the dystopia hype (which actually might still be going on, but anyway), so I didn’t really have any high hopes for how good it would be — I tend to be cautious towards really popular books, since I’ve been burned a few times by following the hype. :p However, even years later, it still seemed interesting to me, so I decided to at least skim it and see what it was about before outright deciding not to read it.

I have to say, Wither is a lot better than I expected it to be. I think there are a few logical holes as to how a society like this would have developed from the problem of short lifespans, but that aside, it’s actually quite a well thought out story about a girl in a desperate situation who tries to win back her freedom. The story itself dragged a bit, but I’m chalking that up to it being the first of a series and hopefully now that the worldbuilding is done, we can get into some really in-depth, complex looks at the characters and the society they live in within the next books of the series.

On the bright side however, the characters are well done and I loved learning more about them and learning how their lives fit into this strange world as a whole, and what their attitudes said about the world they’re living in. I also thought that DeStefano did an amazing job portraying Rhine’s internal conflict, where she needed to show that she was buying into her new life in order to win her freedom, but then felt guilty for maybe buying into it a little too much. Very, very well done on those counts.

While it’s not on a must-read list or even a definitely recommend list, it is interesting and I definitely want to make a point to read the sequels to see how this series turns out. If it sounds good to you, then I will say that I enjoyed myself, so maybe you will too.

Book Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

aeronaut's windlassTitle: The Aeronaut’s Windlass
Author: Jim Butcher
Series: The Cinder Spires, Book 1
Publisher: Roc
Paperback: 630 pages
Source: Chicago OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I’m a huge fan of Butcher’s Dresden Files series, so when I saw that he wrote a sort of sci-fi/high fantasy book, I needed to check it out right away. Luckily, Chicago Public Library is the best and has it available for OverDrive, so it was super easy to find.

This is a great set-up book, and as long as the sequel(s) deliver, I’ll consider it totally worth it. I love the foundation that Butcher lays for this world and these characters. If we get the chance to see them grow and see this world fleshed out with more information and complexities, then it’s totally worth it. However, if this is all that we get, then I’ll be disappointed. The characters a little bit too cliche for me, and the world wasn’t described as much as I would have liked it to be — again, if I get growth and description later, perfect; well done on the pacing. If not, it’ll be a bit of a problem.

With that said, it’s a fun book. Butcher offers lots of action, a touch of romance, and a wonderful new world to learn about and explore, which really is exactly my kind of book. It’s everything I look for with this kind of genre, and I was completely satisfied with it. While it took me a bit to get into it, I greatly enjoyed after the initial set-up and can’t wait to read more. I’m greatly looking forward to the next book in the series, but can’t recommend it in good conscience without first having that one out to read, just to see how all this pans out.

Book Review: The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

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Title: The Song of the Quarkbeast
Author: Jasper Fforde
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Series: The Chronicles of Kazam, Book 2
Hardcover: 304 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Magic has been in a sad state in the Ununited Kingdom for years, but now it’s finally on the rise and boneheaded King Snodd IV knows it. If he succeeds at his plot, the very future of magic will be at risk! Sensible sixteen-year-old Jennifer Strange, acting manager of Kazam Mystical Arts Management and its hapless crew of sorcerers, has little chance against the king and his cronies—but there’s no way Kazam will let go of the noble powers of magic without a fight. A suspenseful, satirical story of Quarkbeasts, trolls, and wizidrical crackle!

 

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher at BookExpo America.*

I love Jasper Fforde’s style of writing, and even though I’ve only read YA and adult fiction from him up until now, this middle grade series did not disappoint. His humor, wordplay, and ability to create likeable characters and put them in ridiculously weird situations has made him one of my favorite authors.

The Song of the Quarkbeast is the second book of The Last Dragonslayer series. I haven’t read the first book, but I had no trouble following the action and the storyline. So, I don’t think it’s necessary to read this series in order, but I’m sure that reading the first book would make this one more enjoyable, since there are probably details and jokes carried over that I didn’t understand. The Song of the Quarkbeast follows Jennifer Strange, an indentured orphan who is acting manager of a magic company. She and her sorcerers have to go up against a rival magic company in a duel of wizarding skill in order to keep their rights to practice magic.

Like all of Fforde’s books, The Song of the Quarkbeast is just plain fun. It has adventure, mystery, suspense, action, and a bit of romance to top it all off. I love the strange-yet-vaguely-familiar world of the Ununited Kingdom, with its inept rulers and brutal laws. The characters are also fantastic. It’s told in first person perspective from Jennifer, who is mature and intelligent, which is unfortunately rare to see in a teenage character. And that’s great, because in addition to being great entertainment, this book teaches the importance of teamwork, and it shows how teenagers are capable of rising to a challenge and overcoming obstacles.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly. If you’ve at all enjoyed Fforde’s previous works, you’ll love this. And if you are a fantasy fan and have yet to delve into Fforde’s wondrously weird worlds, you need to give him a try. I have read quite a few books by him and have yet to be disappointed.

Audiobook Review: Timeline by Michael Crichton

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Title: Timeline
Author: Michael Crichton
Narrator: John Bedford Lloyd
Publisher: Books on Tape
Duration: 15 hours 11 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

In an Arizona desert a man wanders in a daze, speaking words that make no sense. Within twenty-four hours he is dead, his body swiftly cremated by his only known associates. Halfway around the world archaeologists make a shocking discovery at a medieval site. Suddenly they are swept off to the headquarters of a secretive multinational corporation that has developed an astounding technology. Now this group is about to get a chance not to study the past but to enter it. And with history opened to the present, the dead awakened to the living, these men and women will soon find themselves fighting for their very survival–six hundred years ago. . . .

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

Many might be familiar with Timeline from the movie adaptation with Paul Walker and Gerard Butler — I saw that movie ages ago when it came out and finally got around to reading the book. I can’t really compare it to the movie, because I saw that so long ago, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Timeline is about a group of archaeologists who must travel to the fourteenth century (during a time of war) to rescue their professor.

Honestly, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. Though I love audiobooks, I’m always wary of committing myself to anything over seven or eight hours, because listening to the same voice for longer than that can get tedious. Thankfully, John Bedford Lloyd is a brilliant narrator and really brought life to the characters and the story. In fact, I enjoyed spending the extra time with this novel and being able to immerse myself in its world.

Anybody who likes an adventure story would probably like Timeline. My favorite part about it is that it has a nice mix of historical fiction, mystery/thriller, and science fiction. There’s something for everyone, and I love reading a story that is able to successfully bring together a variety of genres. Although, I have to say, some of the science fiction explanation was a little too detailed, making it confusing and leaving quite a few plot holes. It would have been better without the attempt to explain the time travel scientifically, I think. But putting that aside, Crichton has created a solidly entertaining story.

There’s action, adventure, romance, intrigue, etc. Like I said before, there’s something for everyone. It’s told from multiple viewpoints, but at no point was I confused or lost. If you enjoy audiobooks, don’t let the length scare you — I had a great time listening to it. However, if you’re not an audiobook fan, I think that reading it would be just as satisfying.

Book Review: The Stand by Stephen King

Title: The Stand (Uncut edition)
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Signet
Paperback: 1141 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.

And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides—or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abigail—and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man.

In 1978 Stephen King published The Stand, the novel that is now considered to be one of his finest works. But as it was first published,The Stand was incomplete, since more than 150,000 words had been cut from the original manuscript.

Now Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil has been restored to its entirety. The Stand: The Complete And Uncut Edition includes more than five hundred pages of material previously deleted, along with new material that King added as he reworked the manuscript for a new generation. It gives us new characters and endows familiar ones with new depths. It has a new beginning and a new ending. What emerges is a gripping work with the scope and moral complexity of a true epic.

For hundreds of thousands of fans who read The Stand in its original version and wanted more, this new edition is Stephen King’s gift. And those who are reading The Stand for the first time will discover a triumphant and eerily plausible work of the imagination that takes on the issues that will determine our survival.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

As with most crazy-long books, The Stand was a bit slow to start off. A lot of establishing characters and backgrounds, but once it got going, it never stopped. King is obviously an awesome writer, and this is my favorite book that I’ve read by him so far. He’s not afraid to sacrifice lovable characters (yes, you will probably cry while reading this), and he’s not afraid to let things get completely hopeless. These things make for one awesome read. Add all the weird paranormal stuff to it, and you have probably one of the best books ever written.

I usually don’t like to read descriptions of books before I read them — a vague idea of what’s going to happen is fine with me. And I don’t know how I managed to live 23 years without hearing the plot line, but I did it, so I had absolutely no idea what this book was about nor why it was so good. I was shocked (in a good way) to learn that not only is this about a plague that kills 99% of the population, but there’s a paranormal element to it and a sort of devil-dude is trying to gain followers to wipe out the decent people that are left. (Side note: Can King think of an awesome plot, or what?!)

The page length will probably scare some people off, but I actually enjoy longer books. You get to know the characters so much better, and that is definitely true of this book. I felt like I was with these characters; their problems were my problems, and I found myself worrying about the same things as them and rooting for them all the way. There is also a lot of room for growth and change, which definitely happens. My advice: don’t let the length scare you. It’ll take you some time to read, but it’s worth it.

I did think that the good guys should have recognized some of the practically-converted-devil-followers fairly quickly. Yes, they’re busy trying to put the world back together and survive and stuff, but with all this weird telepathic/psychic stuff going on, you think at least one of them would have picked up on it, and, being in survival mode, done something to prevent these people from wreaking havoc. Yes, it’s a novel and crazy stuff happens, but I thought it could have been more intelligently done. While I liked the good guys, I didn’t find them particularly smart, which bothered me a little.

Overall, I think this is a brilliant book. Strip away the world and most of society, and you can get a good look at true human nature. King gives an insightful view into what an apocalyptic world would look like: the chaos, the re-establishing of order, and how people come together (or tear each other to pieces). Some people can’t make it, and the people who are the most successful often aren’t the ones that would be successful in the society we live in today. It’s about family, friends, survival, and of course, the destructive force we humans have on ourselves and on our world. I never recommend a book for everyone, because we all have different tastes and there will never be one book that’s a perfect fit for every single person, but this is one that everyone should at least try hard to read. I highly recommend it.

Book Review: Steel and Other Stories by Richard Matheson

Title: Steel and Other Stories
Author: Richard Matheson
Publisher: Tor
Paperback: 320 pages
Source: Goodreads FirstReads
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Imagine a future in which the sport of boxing has gone high-tech.  Human boxers have been replaced by massive humanoid robots.   And former champions of flesh-and-blood are obsolete . . . .

Richard Matheson’s classic short story is now the basis for Real Steel, a gritty, white-knuckle film starring Hugh Jackman.  But “Steel,” which was previously filmed as a powerful episode of the original Twilight Zone television series, is just one of over a dozen unforgettable tales in this outstanding collection, which includes two new stories that have never appeared in any previous Matheson collection.  Also featured is a bizarre satirical fantasy, “The Splendid Source,” that was turned into an episode of The Family Guy.

Richard Matheson was recently inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Steel demonstrates once again the full range of his legendary imagination.

*I was given a copy from Goodreads FirstReads in exchange for my honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4/5 

I really enjoyed this collection of short stories. I have never read anything by Matheson before, so I was surprised to find that I actually enjoyed his style and outlook of the world. Of course, some I liked better than others, but overall, I thought they were enjoyable science fiction pieces. I really enjoyed “Steel,” “The Splendid Source,” and “The Traveler.”

Most of these stories did tend to be depressing, so I wouldn’t suggest reading it all in one go. Sprinkle it with some happy reading on the side. To be fair, Matheson does add some levity with ironic humor. These are relatively old pieces (dated from the 1950’s), but they don’t show their age. Instead of focusing on man’s downfall from technology-related issues (as many science fiction authors from his time period do), Matheson focuses on people themselves. Whether it be how people are their own downfall, or explorations of life and people in general.

What this collection shows is that Matheson is brilliant at creating characters and situations that stick with you. He takes the reader out of his or her comfort zone and plops them down into a strange, Twilight Zone-esque environment. If you’re at all a fan of science fiction, you’ll love his work.

Book Review: Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde

Title: Lost in a Good Book
Author: Jasper Fforde
Publisher: Penguin
Series: Thursday Next, Book 2
Paperback: 399 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The inventive, exuberant, and totally original literary fun that began with The Eyre Affair continues with Jasper Fforde’s magnificent second adventure starring the resourceful, fearless literary sleuth Thursday Next. When Landen, the love of her life, is eradicated by the corrupt multinational Goliath Corporation, Thursday must moonlight as a Prose Resource Operative of Jurisfiction, the police force inside books. She is apprenticed to the man-hating Miss Havisham from Dickens’s Great Expectations, who grudgingly shows Thursday the ropes. And she gains just enough skill to get herself in a real mess entering the pages of Poe’s “The Raven.” What she really wants is to get Landen back. But this latest mission is not without further complications. Along with jumping into the works of Kafka and Austen, and even Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, Thursday finds herself the target of a series of potentially lethal coincidences, the authenticator of a newly discovered play by the Bard himself, and the only one who can prevent an unidentifiable pink sludge from engulfing all life on Earth.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Is it just me, or did this series take a bit of a dark turn? Not that I’m complaining. I love dark stories, I’m just surprised at the change. This isn’t to say that the first book of the series, The Eyre Affair, didn’t have some dark elements — Acheron Hades is one of the most terrifying villains ever. However, Lost in a Good Book makes the problems a lot more personal for Thursday. I like that a lot. The stakes are raised, and this series is rapidly becoming more complicated, terrifying, and way more addicting.

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