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.

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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 Soldiers of Halla by DJ MacHale

soldiers-of-hallaTitle: The Soldiers of Halla
Author: D.J. MacHale
Publisher: Aladdin
Series: Pendragon, Book 10
Hardcover: 608 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

It has all been leading to this. Every victory. Every loss. All the thrills and sadness; the hope and despair. Bobby Pendragon’s heart-pounding journey through time and space has brought him to this epic moment. He and his fellow Travelers must join forces for one last desperate battle against Saint Dane. At stake is not only the tenth and final territory, but all that ever was or will be. Everywhere.

This is the war for Halla.

Every question is answered. Every truth is revealed.

The final battle has begun.

My Review:

You know what makes a great book? Authors who aren’t afraid to get dirty; authors who don’t hold back on tragedy. This is especially true in adventure books — if your characters are frequently put in dangerous situations, bad things should happen. Yes, maybe they’re able to get out of those bad situations and rise above it, but it shouldn’t be easy for them. D.J. MacHale is one author who definitely doesn’t hold back and definitely doesn’t make it easy for his characters in the final battle.

I am very satisfied with the conclusion of this series. All the characters showed tremendous growth and the final battle was pretty awesome. MacHale did some careful planning with this series, because I noticed things that tied back to clues given in previous books, which was fun. This is the point I was waiting for throughout the entire series, and like I said, MacHale doesn’t hold back. The stakes are high and it gets dangerous for Bobby and his friends.

The only thing I didn’t like was the explanation of what makes them all Travelers and how the gates were formed. I know it’s a fantasy/science fiction novel, but it was just a little too far-fetched for me. I’m not going to go into detail due to spoilers, I’ll just say that I think there could be far better explanations to the one MacHale chose.

However, this was a satisfying ending. It got kind of shaky for me around book 6 (The Rivers of Zadaa), but I continued with it because I was invested in the characters by that point. Around book 8 (The Pilgrims of Rayne), I was feeling it again, and now I’m glad I stuck with it. Soldiers of Halla is a great book full of excitement, danger, adventure, friendship, and everything that I love about the Pendragon series. Honestly, I think it’s the best book of the series because the stakes are raised so high and the characters really have to struggle.

I recommend this entire series to lovers of young adult adventure/fantasy. They’re imaginative, exciting books that don’t disappoint.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

handmaid's tale by margaret atwood.jpgTitle: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: McClelland and Stewart
Paperback: 324 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

It is the world of the near future, and Offred is a Handmaid in the home of the Commander and his wife. She is allowed out once a day to the food market, she is not permitted to read, and she is hoping the Commander makes her pregnant, because she is only valued if her ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she was an independent woman, had a job of her own, a husband and child. But all of that is gone now…everything has changed.

 

My Review:

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. Honestly, from my friends’ descriptions of the book I was expecting something completely different. I was expecting the world Offred lives in to be openly violent and brutal rather than one filled with subtle brutality, psychological warfare, and religious control. In my opinion, the world Margaret Atwood created is frighteningly believable.

There were many subjects dealt with in this relatively small book, and I think they were all handled skillfully. The Handmaid’s Tale deals with the power of religion, woman’s place in society, man’s place in society, and a struggle to reconcile personal freedom with the survival of people as a whole. It offers a lot of food for thought and, like I said, it’s relatively small; a little over 300 pages, which is amazing, considering all the subjects covered.

The best and most chilling part for me is that the narrator still remembers what it was like to live in the “old world,” where women could hold jobs, marry whomever they fell in love with, and be free. The flashbacks to her life as a free woman added a lot to the horror of how the world is now structured in the novel. My favorite part is “Historical Notes” added at the end (these are necessary to the novel — read them, don’t skip!), which gave the novel a hopeful tone. This, I appreciated, because it shows that humans are capable of rising above an overbearing, immoral government, no matter how hard they try to oppress people.

Overall, I would recommend everybody to read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I know quite a few people don’t like it, but I really do think that it offers interesting subject matter told in an entertaining way. This is one dystopia I’m definitely glad to have read.

Overall rating: 4/5