Book Review: The Death Cure

The Death Cure
The Maze Runner #3
by James Dashner

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, The Maze Runner & The Scorch Trials.

The first thought I had after I finished reading this book was, “Eh.” And in a lot of ways, that accurately sums up my thoughts on it. It was…okay. Not terrible (better than book #2), but not great either. The answers in this book only solidified my theory that Dashner did not have the trilogy planned out when he wrote the first book and didn’t really know where to go from the maze.

The reasoning behind all of the trials and “variables” was mediocre at best. Terminology was strange and didn’t always make sense (like “killzone”), and in the end, most of what was going on was not any more grand, exciting, or surprising than everything I guessed at along the way. The ending was more of what I would call a “non-ending.” Not satisfying in any way.

The characters didn’t get much better in this book. The only character I really liked throughout the series was shafted in this book. Teresa was even more pointless in this book than in the previous. And I seriously don’t get any kind of a feel for Brenda. So many people like her, but she seems fairly lifeless to me. And something she said near the beginning of this book, now that I think of it, makes no real sense and barely came into play.

So in the end, would I recommend this series? No. Not to adult readers, at least. Maybe teenagers get more out of it, I don’t know. It seems like it’s one of those that you either love or just don’t care for at all. I liked the first book, but the rest of the series didn’t deliver on that set-up. And I have no desire to read the two prequel books.

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Book Review: The Scorch Trials

The Scorch Trials
The Maze Runner #2
by James Dashner

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, The Maze Runner.

I liked The Maze Runner. It had its issues, sure, but I enjoyed it and was looking forward to seeing what came next. This book almost killed my interest in the series. I was happy to see more of certain characters from the previous book, but the plot was convoluted and Teresa was a bad caricature of an angsty teenager.

So much of this book seemed completely unnecessary. The things that were designed by WICKED felt like such obvious contrivances, especially by the end, that I can’t help but wonder what Dashner was doing. Did he have the entire trilogy figured out in advance? It seemed more like he wrote himself into a corner with the first book and just decided to go with it. I’m trying to have faith that it will make actual sense in the end, but I don’t see how head-eating liquid metal is something that will help anyone save the world.

And as for the relationship between Thomas and Teresa…I just couldn’t care less anymore. I was good with it in the first book, even liked the uniqueness of their bond. But now, they’re just a vehicle for angst. And a pointless love triangle. And angst. Seriously, the teen drama in this book… Maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me if the plot had advanced really at all, if any real questions had been answered.

I’m invested now, though, so I’ll read the third one and soon, so I can put to rest the questions and The Question of whether or not it delivers on the interest I had after reading the first book.

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Book Review: Jubilee Manor

Jubilee Manor
Landry Park
#2
by Bethany Hagen

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Dystopian romance

Spoiler notice: The following review may contain some spoilers for the previous book, Landry Park.

As Madeline, her family, and the estate deal with the actions at the end of Landry Park, one of Madeline’s fellow gentry heirs is murdered. Madeline suspects a particularly hateful Rootless man, which puts her at odds with her uncle and cousin, as well as with David Dana. A second murder only serves to escalate the threat of violence between the Rootless and the gentry, as Madeline feels caught in the middle, hoping to make a difference, but unsure of who will listen.

This short book series has a difficult-to-define quality to it that gives it a charm and depth that I really enjoyed. Several surprises came up in this book, and though a few threads were still left hanging, overall, it was a nice conclusion to the short series.

Most of the things that bothered me in the first book were gone in this one. The relationship between Madeline and David deepened in a way that did still cause a lot of drama for Madeline, but it was based on a real conflict, rather than the immature-feeling jealousy in the first book. They argued a lot over Madeline’s insistence that the murderer was a Rootless man, though, and there were several things about that whole situation that bothered me–probably the biggest detraction in the entire book for me.

The mystery wasn’t very deep or intriguing, but it was a good catalyst for the plot. I wouldn’t go as far as to put this book into the mystery genre, but I think fans of romance and dystopian worlds, especially those who also like books set in the Victorian or Regency eras should give this 2-book series a try.

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Book Review: The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner
Book #1
by James Dashner

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian

I’ve not read any of the big-name YA dystopian series that have been popular over the years, so this is my first foray into those books. I liked this story–both the plot in this book, and the larger story that it sets up. While there were some things that I felt could have been done better, they were not enough to detract from my overall enjoyment.

I found the immediate world-building–the Glade and maze around it–interesting and fun to explore (if “fun” is the right word, given the situation). It felt a lot like a community a bunch of teenage boys would create. And Thomas himself I found to be an engaging main character. Others have seen him as a Gary Stu-type (too good at everything), I didn’t see it that way at all. Yes, he had his areas of innate ability, but I didn’t find it to be overly done, and there were legitimate reasons for all of it.

One thing that bugged me the most was the fake cussing. I get the reason Dashner included it (or at least, my assumption of his reason), but in the context of the story, it really didn’t make sense. The boys remembered the world overall, just had no personal memories, so why did they feel the need to make up their own swear words? And speaking of those memories, the progression of life as we know it to the dystopian world these people inhabit seems a little off in conjunction with the things they remember. Especially adding in some other factors that would be a spoiler to mention.

While there were plenty of predictable things that happened, the danger was real, and it kept me moving quickly through the entire book. My husband started listening to the audiobook at the same time, which is not something we’ve ever done before. I’m also looking forward to continuing the series, and hope we’ll do so together.

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Book Review: Spark (DNF)

Did Not Finish: Spark
Swipe
#4
by Evan Angler

My rating: DNF, no rating
Genre: YA dystopian, Christian

The decision to set aside a book that I most likely won’t finish is never easy, which is why I’ve only done it twice before. But this one was even harder, because it was book #4 in a series. Unfortunately, the series apparently doesn’t have an end at this time, and book #4 is a major departure from the 3 before it. The author always seemed a bit eccentric, but it went way too weird for me in this book.

One of the biggest issues I saw in other reviews was that the author left behind the characters that we spent so much time with in the first three books in favor of some new people. I don’t think I would have minded that so much on its own. However, the main character of this book had this strange way of referring to herself. She was “Ali Without a Name,” but there was no explanation of that (considering that she clearly did have a name, I’d have liked to know the story behind this). Then sometimes she or someone else would refer to her in other ways like “Hungry Ali” or “Naughty Ali.”

This, amongst other things, caused me to get that “just hang in there until things make sense” feeling. And then I cheated a little. My son has read all 4 of these books, though it’s been several years. But still, I asked him if any of these things that were making no sense would eventually be explained. He said pretty much no. I decided to call it then, about 1/4 of the way in.

Still, I liked the previous 3 books enough that, even though it’s been 7 years since this book was published, I hold out the tiniest bit of hope that the author will continue the series. If that were to happen, I’d come back and finish this book in preparation of the next. Unless that happens, though, I have no desire to find out what’s going on with Ali and the Tinchers.

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Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Classic sci-fi, dystopian

451

I read this book as a sophomore in high school, 22 years ago. I remember it being one of the easier-to-read classics of my 3 years of Honors English. All I really remembered about it, though, is the basic premise of book burning, the parlor screens, and a vague creepy idea of the Mechanical Hound. After reading it again now, I’m actually surprised that I remember it as a “simple” read, due to the writing style and a plethora of metaphors, but it does probably make a difference when you’re pushed to analyze it after reading each third. I didn’t dissect it for symbolism and analyze every paragraph like I did other classics, though, and I still have the short papers I wrote for assignments about it. It was fun to read those again after reading the book.

As an adult, I see the book differently than I did back then. For one thing, I have come to realize that the book is not about the censorship involved in book burning. The fire captain makes it clear that society turned from books long before it became illegal to own them. Rather, the technology that led them to that point seems to be what is being demonized. I suppose it’s a call to make sure we don’t let it take over our lives.

Though to be honest, I think there’s a mixed message here, because despite the explanation the captain gives, it’s also clear that the government doesn’t want the people thinking for themselves. Wants them distracted while they’re about to go to war–why and with whom, we never know. And due again to the writing style, I am not sure I understand what happened at the very end regarding the war.

I would say a strong theme, which is perhaps more relevant today, is the control the government is able to exert over the people. If the majority of society decides it doesn’t care about books, then those people just don’t read books. Why does that have to lead to books becoming illegal? The government decides that it needs to regulate the people’s “fun” and oppose the potential of anyone offending anyone else at all, and apparently the people let it happen. Especially considering how recently Faber was a professor at a liberal arts school, it’s amazing how quickly it must have happened.

One thing that I was absolutely correct about in remembering this book was how creepy the Mechanical Hound is. I actually had some unpleasant dreams the night in between the two days it took me to read the book this week, and the Hound was a highlight. (I don’t have specific memories of the dreams, but a general understanding that they were related to the book.) It’s seriously disturbing.

In the end, for me, at least, this book doesn’t hold up as the classic it’s hailed as. It’s not a bad story, but I don’t know that it’s worth studying or holding up as a warning. Between this and Ender’s Game, maybe I’m just not a fan of classic sci-fi.

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Book Review: Storm

Storm
Swipe
#3
by Evan Angler

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian, Christian

Storm

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the previous books in the series, Swipe and Sneak.

Unwitting leaders of a revolution for those who refused to pledge loyalty to the future global leader, Logan and the rest of the Dust are being pulled in multiple directions. While Logan, Peck, Erin, and Hailey head west to try to save Erin’s life and stop an epidemic, the rest of the Dust have a mission in the capital city of Beacon–continue to protest the leader’s minions while searching for their lost friend. Then Logan’s sister Lily brings him a new mission, as a brewing storm is about to be unleashed.

The continuing saga of Logan and the Dust ramps up in this book. The Dust continue to gain new members and allies, both Markless and Marked. The ending feels like a huge leap off the side of a cliff, but overall, the book was engaging.

In the first book, I really disliked both Tyler and Eddie. I know they’re kids, so of course their immaturity would be expected. But it’s taken to such an extreme, it just bugs me. I like both of them so much more in this book, even though they’re still goofy and immature. It’s like it has a purpose now.

There were a few oddball things that happened in the book, like horses showing up out of nowhere when two of the characters were traveling via the River, or a teenager being walked to the scene of his parents’ death, even to the point of them showing him their dead bodies. I just don’t know why the sheriff would do that.

By the end of this book, I had come to realize that Evan Angler is a pen name, considering that it turns out he’s actually a character in the book. I truly don’t understand why the author chose this plot device, though, as so far, it doesn’t add much to the book. I think that perhaps this could have been more fully utilized by having a narrator that was more connected to the reader throughout the series. I’ll be curious to see if this is expanded on in the next book though.

This story has really come into its own by this book. It’s uncommon, at least in my experience, for Christian end-times fiction to come in from this angle, as there’s very little in the way of Christianity even still now. One character did express his faith a bit more in this book and then left on some kind of pilgrimage, which I’m sure will come into play more in the next book. It did become clear in this book that the rapture had happened in the past though, which I’d been curious about. I’m not too optimistic about the next book, given reviews I’ve read, but I’m going in with an open mind, because I’ve disagreed with reviews plenty of times before. At this point, I’d still recommend this book to those who enjoy end-times fiction and YA books.

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Book Review: Landry Park

Landry Park
by Bethany Hagen

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian romance

Landry

Two hundred years in the future, various factors have left most of the United States in a dystopian state that is reminiscent of Victorian times–right down to the fancy dresses and the imperative for wealthy young women to marry eligible, and wealthy, bachelors. Madeline Landry is sole heir to the Landry estate and fortune, but unhappy with her lot in life. What starts as an attempt to have some control over her life turns into a growing desire to see the lower income classes treated better, even as her father tries to head off a rebellion by the lowest caste. Meanwhile, a new bachelor comes to town and turns every head, including Madeline’s, which distracts her from everything else…sometimes.

In a rare twist for me, I enjoyed this book more than many other reviewers. Some of what I noticed complained about most in other reviews didn’t really bother me, for which I am thankful. Though there was plenty that brought the book down for me, the main character included, I found myself caught up in the mysteries presented and really wanting to know what on earth was going on, and what would happen.

Madeline is a fairly shallow character. And I don’t mean her personality is shallow, I mean there’s not a lot of depth given to her character. It doesn’t really bother me that she seemed to want to help the Rootless, while living her opulent life and struggling to actually act on behalf of the eternally dying lowest of society. It might seem like a huge character flaw that many of us would say we’d never do, but the truth is that it’s actually very human.

I should have put more emphasis on the romance in my synopsis, because make no mistake, it was a huge part of the story. With everything going on, the fact that Madeline’s thoughts are so wrapped up in what’s going on with David Dana, who is so incredibly hot and cold, often feel like they get in the way. However, even that developing non-relationship is part of the mystery of the book. In the end, after thinking that an assault that occurred near the beginning was the driving plot, I think this very relationship felt more like the story goal by the end. Whether that was on purpose or not, I can’t say. Besides the over-prominence of the romance, though, it irked me so much for reasons I won’t get into to avoid spoilers. It worked out like I expected, but was still really unpleasant along the way.

There were a few reveals near the end that I really didn’t see coming, even though the clues were there. The book turned out to be a bit deeper than it seems upon first glance. There were also a few things left unexplained that really niggled at me. I’m not saying that’s a fault on the author’s part, because in this type of series, having a few lingering questions makes sense. I can only hope they’re revealed in the sequel.

Overall, I’m glad I read this book. I picked it up without any knowledge of it whatsoever at a bargain store months ago, and almost let its low rating on Goodreads keep me from reading it. Instead of disliking it like I was worried I would, I’m looking forward to see what the sequel holds. It has a good chance of having a lot less of the things that I disliked the most about this book. I think fans of romance and dystopian worlds, especially those who also like books set in the Victorian era, or other similar-ish eras of that time, should give this book a try.

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Book Review: Sneak

Finished Reading: Sneak
Swipe
#2
by Evan Angler

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA dystopian, Christian

Sneak

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain some spoilers for the first book in the series, Swipe.

Sneak picks up immediately after the previous story’s end, with Logan on the run and the Dust in the wind. In the aftermath, Logan and Peck, leader of the Dust, share a common goal–find Logan’s sister Lily. Five years ago, Lily supposedly died when she went to receive her Mark, but Logan has since received information that she is actually in some sort of prison. Logan and the Dust travel along the River to Beacon, the capital city, where they will try to break Lily out. Meanwhile, Logan’s friend-turned-betrayer Erin is on her own track to Beacon, which is what she thought she wanted, but now isn’t so sure.

The story really picked up in this 2nd installment, with more action and higher stakes. We get to see even more of the community that the Markless have formed across the country. And the members of the Dust weren’t nearly as annoying as in the first book. Plus, we get some fresh blood to the cause that is very promising.

Though the Dust and most of the rest of the Markless community seems to hate Logan at first, due to the extra heat he’s brought down on them all, I like him a bit more in this book. He seems a little wiser and a little less helpless. I still don’t care for Erin’s character, though, who was the other MC in the first book. She has a smaller role in this one and is so inconsistent, I don’t know if she’s just that confused or if she isn’t written very well. The character that I said was my favorite in the first book was in this one a lot less, and frankly…I don’t remember why I liked him so much in the first one. So there’s that.

The other members of the dust are given a bit more of a background, so while they don’t really come to the forefront that much, at least there’s some depth there. There’s a pseudo-love triangle in this book that seemed pretty unnecessary to me so far. But overall, the characters were more engaging in this book.

I loved the River, which had similarities to hobo signs (which I learned about from a Nancy Drew game). It was an interesting idea to include in the story, though at least one thing happened that was pretty predictable to a point. The outcome was not so predictable to me.

As I mentioned in the first book’s review, the series is actually Christian end-times fiction, which became more clear in this book. Logan finds and begins to carry around and read a Bible, which is a banned book, considering that religions other than the One World Religion are also forbidden. It’s a subtle build-up, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next book. Sadly, since reading the first one, I have become aware of the fact that this is an unfinished series, the most recent book being published in 2013. With that understanding, this might still be worth reading for those who enjoy end-times fiction.

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Book Review: His Name Was Zach

Finished Reading: His Name Was Zach
by Peter Martuneac

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Dystopian

Zach

I’m going to preface this entire review with the explanation that zombie fiction is really not my thing. I chose to read this book to support a fellow self-published author, and I want to make sure that anyone reading this review knows up front that my thoughts on it are likely tainted by the fact that I just don’t care for zombie stories. It’s not just the zombies themselves, or the gore & violence, but the hopelessness and despair, and the fact that they’re so often the same basic story. That being said, on with the review.

Zach and Abby found each other during the worst possible circumstances–a zombie apocalypse. Zach is a former marine, and Abby is a 14-year-old whose parents are gone. They decide to stick together, forming a father-daughter relationship to rival those with blood connections. Through many different kinds of threats, from zombies to dangerous humans, imminent starvation, and even overwhelming loneliness, they take care of each other. Will they ever find the rest they’re longing for?

Zombie apocalypse or not, I didn’t hate this book. But I didn’t enjoy it very much it either, and that’s not just because of the genre. The book has two main things going for it–a lot of heart and the realism regarding the main character’s marine background, due to the author being a former marine himself. However, there were many things that detracted from the book for me; in the end, I wasn’t the best audience for this book.

The book probably could have been cut down at least 25%, if not close to half, and told the same story. There was a lot of repetition, including many flashbacks that showed something we’d already been told, with nothing new to add, not to mention the pages-long Rev War daydream. There was unnecessary recap of past events, and a lot of repetition of dialog.

Some other issues I had were pockets of narration styles that didn’t fit with the rest (like a few paragraphs from a bird’s perspective and one time when the author/narrator informally addressed the reader); two female characters whose names started with A, which caused me to be confused about who was doing what, who was in peril, etc. during fast-paced scenes; grammatical issues and typos often enough to pull me out of the story.

I’ll pause here for a quick warning for those who are like me when it comes to content that makes them uncomfortable: the book is very graphic. There is more language than any book I’ve read (if it had been a movie, I would have had to turn it off…apparently it bothers me more to hear it out loud than to read it), and there is one particularly gory scene that made me very uncomfortable. Sexual situations (both consensual and non–and let that be a trigger warning for those who need it) were handled much more tastefully by comparison.

I think, though, that what bothered me the most was how the writing has a very YA feel, which I am certain was not the intention. And even with that, Abby talks like someone way beyond her years much of the time, while other times acting like a child. (This may have been intentional, given the traumatic experiences she’d gone through and the super-smart characterization given to her, but I didn’t get that impression.) Abby was probably my least favorite non-villain character, which is sad, since the (not-yet-released) sequel is titled Her Name Was Abby. I don’t know that I’ll have an desire to read it, though I’m not committing to that yet. There are a lot of ways the sequel could improve on the original.

For someone who doesn’t take in a lot of zombie apocalypse fiction, I felt like I’d seen many of the events from this book done before. Common tropes certainly can be used and feel fresh and unique, but they didn’t in this case. Though to be fair, there were plenty of things that happened that didn’t seem so cliche too. Overall, I think what I saw in this book was a lack of experience with writing. With more revision and feedback from other experienced writers, I think it would have been a better overall read. And I know that plenty of what I mention in this review is personal preference. If it seems interesting to you, please be sure to check out others’ reviews for this book.

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