Book Review: Son

Son
The Giver series #4
by Lois Lowry

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s dystopian, fantasy

As a teenage Birthmother, Claire produces her first child of the three that are expected of her. But there are complications, and she is unceremoniously ejected from the job she’d been assigned. She begins to long for her son and will stop at nothing to find him again after he is taken from the community by Jonas, the recently appointed Receiver.

Well…what a strange, uncertain journey it has been through this series. In some ways, it seems like Son decently ties up the three books that come before it. In other ways, it seems like Lowry had no idea where she was going and took a rambling route to the end. I tend to assume that Lowry wrote The Giver without intending any follow-up. Then, considering how many years passed between each successive sequel that came out, I wonder if she had an ultimate plan in mind for this series, or if she just wrote each book as it came to her and tried to build on the previous. It would make more sense to me if the latter were true. Either way, though, I do appreciate being able to see more of the escapees from the first book. On the other hand, the existence of innate magical powers in quite a few people, in a series that started more as sci-fi than fantasy, is rather confusing.

I felt there were some weak areas in the book, even outside of the broader questions of simply what on earth is going on in this world. For example, I have a difficult time believing that Einar could really memorize so well the climb up the cliff that he had done only once, and an even more difficult time believing that the path up had not changed since the years before that Einar climbed it (plants should have grown, rocks might have crumbled, etc.). For that matter, since Claire’s reason for not leaving the seaside town by boat was her fear of the water, what was Einar’s? Why would he not just sail away, rather than attempt such a long, arduous, dangerous climb?

While I appreciate the storylines that Lowry does tie up in this book, I really wonder if we would have been better off left with The Giver as a standalone novel. On the other hand, many people like the series overall. It seems like the kind of thing you either love or hate. Though I’m personally in the middle somewhere, so maybe not. My final recommendation, though, is to read The Giver, if you haven’t already, and maybe just leave it at that, unless you’re really curious.

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Book Review: Ready Player Two

Ready Player Two
Book #2
by Ernest Cline
read by Wil Wheaton

My rating: 1 / 5
Genre: Science fiction, dystopian

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous book, Ready Player One.

As it turns out, Halliday didn’t leave just one contest behind in the Oasis when he died. He left a second one, which wouldn’t be triggered unless his heir found and decided to release a controversial, highly-advanced, game-changing technology to the world and the world then went crazy for it. And since, of course, that’s exactly what happens after the first contest is over, Oasis users are sent on another impossible quest that involves having unlikely knowledge of every single thing someone they never met loved and obsessed over. If it isn’t clear from my rating and from that synopsis I wrote, I did not like this book. To be fair, I didn’t expect to like it, and really didn’t plan to ever read it. But curiosity got the better of me.

To start with, I’ll state that I didn’t love Ready Player One. It was okay, but since I wasn’t won over by all of the 80s nostalgia, I was left with just the plot and characters, which were mediocre overall. So when the sequel was even more 80s trivia and even less plot and characters, it was destined to fail to thrill me. I think the nostalgia has to be the only reason that anyone really likes this book, since it’s otherwise poorly done. Though to be honest, I don’t even know how the pop culture references could be all that enjoyable for anyone, since they’re so shallow. I thought the same when reading RP1, but it seemed even moreso this time. It feels like Cline just really wants to showcase his pop culture knowledge in these books, except half of what we get is something that anyone with an internet connection could easily include in a story.

As for the story itself, there’s a ridiculous amount of exposition, usually dumped in huge piles, and often right when something exciting is about to happen. Seriously, when we’re told the first item for the contest has (finally) been found, we stop for a whole bunch of explanation before actually moving on to the item. And worse yet, sometimes the exposition is repeated. Cline wants so badly for us to know how certain aspects of this make-believe world within a make-believe world work that he tells us twice!

Wade, the MC, is a terrible human being masquerading as a compassionate guy who just doesn’t know how to deal with people. We went through a depressing time with him in the first book, when he pushed all of his friends away and became depressed, but at least we got a good ending out of it. But we have almost a repeat of that in this book, and it’s even more clear now that he’s simply a terrible person. I just can’t bring myself to root for him anymore. I didn’t care if he and Samantha got back together or not, and I really didn’t care about their conflicting views of how to best “save” humanity.

And then there’s the ending…I could not believe what I was hearing when I got to the last chapter. It’s astounding to me that anyone can truly think that the decisions that are made by this group of characters are a good idea. That they’re even remotely okay. That they solve anything! I guess it’s supposed to be a happy ending, but it sounds terrifying and depressing to me. I need to stop now, before the review gets any longer, but suffice it to say that I do not recommend this book to anyone, fans of 80s culture or not. If you really like John Hughes movies or Prince, you might be in heaven for 3-4 chapters of this book. For anyone else…read at your own risk.

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Book Review: The People of Sparks

The People of Sparks
Book of Ember #2
by Jeanne DuPrau

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Children’s dystopian

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

After escaping from the underground city of Ember, Lina and Doon are joined by 400 of their fellow Emberites. With little food and no knowledge of life above ground, they stumble upon the city of Sparks, a town with a rocky past of their own. Though the people of Sparks are generous, the Emberites more than double the strain on their own limited resources. When tension mounts and anger begins to flare on both sides, can Lina and Doon help the people of Sparks and the people of Ember avoid war?

I think what I’m seeing in this book is that the author’s desire to insert a theme and to teach kids something she believes in made the story a lot less interesting than it could have been. Exploring the idea that these people have lived their entire lives underground, in a city that was built for them, with technology they never understood, and literally don’t even know what the sun is, much less how seasons work, did take up some of the book, but it fell by the wayside when the “War is bad” motif took over. Yes, war is bad, and yes, in the context of this story, war is what drove the Emberites’ ancestors underground. And it’s what left the people of Sparks in a primitive lifestyle, only now finally able to store excess food for an emergency. However, I’m not sure I buy that the people of Ember, who have just barely survived the death of their city and the stumbling around in a foreign land to find shelter, could produce someone who wanted power for himself and would be willing to incite others to violence to get it. It seemed like the ramping up to a conflict happened really fast.

Following Lina as she tried to understand her vision/memory/whatever about the gleaming city almost seemed like an afterthought. She took a lot of risk and a lot of the story was taken up by her adventure, just for a really minor pay-off.

I do like what ultimately transpired in the climax and the aftermath of that, and frankly, it went better than I expected it to. I anticipated a really simple, heavy-handed resolution, and though what actually happened wasn’t necessarily unique and unexpected, it was nice. And the book ended well, leaving me still interested in the next in the series. While I think this book could have been MUCH better, it’s not a bad follow-up for those who enjoyed the first in the series, and might be more enjoyable for the age group that it’s meant for than it was for me.

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Book Review: Messenger

Messenger
The Giver series #3
by Lois Lowry

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic dystopian

Moving from the harsh place he grew up, where perfection was valued and kids were abused by adults as a rule, Matty now lives in Village, where weaknesses are embraced and everyone generally treats each other with kindness. But unhappiness and unpleasantness are starting to creep in, and even the nearby forest, through which Matty came to his new home, and through which he’s traveled many times over the years, is beginning to grow hostile.

I do not know where Lois Lowry is going with this series at this point. I don’t understand much of anything after reading this third book in the series. And since, at the time of this book’s release, it seemed to be considered the end of a trilogy, I can understand why a lot of people were quite unhappy with it at the time that it came out. It sort of gives us a little continuation of the first book in the series, but it heaps on new questions and confusions, and puts absolutely none of them to rest. Why did Forest begin to become corrupted in the first place? Where did the Trade Mart come from, and how was it connected to Forest? What happened to the Trade Mart leader at the end of the book? I guess the book is meant to be one huge allegory about people giving up parts of themselves for something superficial, but it’s pretty subtle, so I really doubt kids of the age it’s meant for will pick up on that at all. And maybe that’s even what already happened in the village that Matty, the Seer, and Kira came from, considering that they’re pretty much just terrible people there, but it’s definitely not stated to be such.

I’m not necessarily against a story that leaves some questions unanswered, though I generally don’t prefer it, but this took that to a whole new level. There was really no resolution to anything but what I can only assume is a symptom of something greater. Will things just start to get bad again eventually? I hope not, because the fix in this book can’t really be applied again, not that the fix really makes sense to me in the light of the allegory the author may or may not have been intending. I still have the final book in the tetralogy to read, so maybe answers will come there, but at this point, I’d have a difficult time recommending that fans of The Giver continue the series.

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Book Review: Gathering Blue

Gathering Blue
The Giver series #2
by Lois Lowry

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic dystopian

When Kira’s mom dies, she’s left alone in a community that doesn’t care for her or her twisted foot. Fortunately, she has an almost magical creative gift that gets her the right kind of attention and saves her life. But once she gets a glimpse into the parts of the community most people don’t see, Kira realizes that there are some things going on that she never would have imagined.

Though this book didn’t have quite the charm that its predecessor, The Giver, had, I still enjoyed it. I appreciated Kira’s attitude and willingness to work hard to take care of herself, as well as her desire to help others. That mindset is clearly counter-cultural in her world and shows how a conscientious parent can affect their child in defiance of the world around them. Of course, if this book hadn’t been listed as a follow-up to The Giver, I would never have guessed they were meant to be related, but it’s interesting to me that, where The Giver had order, Gathering Blue has chaos. It’s really amazing to me that anyone could grow up in this world and be a halfway decent person, and the truth is, I’m not sure anyone could. Still, I enjoyed this story in its own right and loved the way the book’s title came into play. I’m intrigued by the overall world Lowry has built between these two books, and I’m looking forward to continuing the series to see how it all ties together.

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Book Review: The City of Ember

The City of Ember
Book of Ember #1
by Jeanne DuPrau

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s dystopian

The city of Ember has survived for over 200 years, a city of light in a world of darkness. But lately, the lights have been going out more and more, and no one seems to know why or how to stop it. Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, both twelve years old and recently assigned jobs for the city, believe they’ve found something that might just save everyone in Ember. If only they could get people to listen to them.

This is the 2nd book I’ve read in this genre in a short period of time, and at first, it reminded me a lot of The Giver. It quickly becomes its own story with a very different theme, and I enjoyed it just as much as I did The Giver, though for different reasons. The slow falling apart of the city and the vastly varying ways the citizens respond to it are fascinating to follow along with. Lina and Doon are well-crafted characters, both with their own issues and driving desires. They even have considerably different reasons for wanting to save the city, and I really admire DuPrau’s ability to make them such well-rounded characters in a short space. I also appreciate how she explains items that are common, everyday things to us but are completely foreign to these people.

I’m looking forward to my 12-year-old daughter reading this book so we can discuss it. I think she’ll enjoy it as much as I did, and I recommend it for others around that age (or older) too.

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Book Review: The Giver

The Giver
Book #1
by Lois Lowry

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Children’s classic dystopian

When 12-year-old Jonas is given his life assignment as Receiver of Memory for his entire community, he doesn’t know what to expect, or even what that means. But the more the Giver reveals to him, the more Jonas knows that he can’t continue to live in the emotionless, colorless world of conformity and blandness.

This book had me hooked from the start. The way Lowry builds the world slowly, while showing everyday life in the lead-up to Jonas’s assignment ceremony, is well done. Though I could guess at some of the revelations, others were definitely a surprise to me. And while, from our perspective in real life, it seems impossible for someone to go through what Jonas does and not want to make changes, it’s clear that these people are just that brainwashed, as they go along with the way life has been presented to them.

Unlike so many who read this book for a school assignment, this is my first time reading it. I’ve heard of it over the years, but it really wasn’t on my radar until my sister gave it to me for Christmas (along with the blu-ray of the movie, so I can compare them, which I’ll do soon). Not for the first time, I am so thankful for her recommendation, and while I can see that the next book isn’t exactly a continuation of this one, I’m very curious to see what else Lowry wrote about this world. It’s a great young-audience dystopian novel written before that became a trend.

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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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