Book Review: The Prisoner of Cell 25

The Prisoner of Cell 25
Michael Vey #1
by Richard Paul Evans

My rating: 4 / 5
Genre: YA sci-fi adventure

Michael Vey isn’t exactly an ordinary kid. For one thing, he has Tourette syndrome. For another, he produces electricity like a taser. In the space of a few days, Michael discovers that he’s not the only one with powers and that there are sinister forces that are looking for him. When his mom is kidnapped, Michael has to go on the offensive while figuring out what his powers can do.

I enjoyed this story overall. The writing was nothing special, but the story is interesting. I think I liked Michael’s powerless friend, Ostin, most. I kept imagining him as Ned from the more recent Spider-Man movies. Hatch is a sufficiently interesting bad guy, who I assume majored in psychology, because he really knows how to manipulate people. Though I do think he makes some obvious errors when trying to break one of the characters, so that was a little off-putting. It might just show how completely deranged he is though.

For as atypical as Michael is supposed to be, he sure seems to bring a lot of tropes and cliches to the book. For example, he has a crush on the cheerleader and can’t talk right around her. He’s also scrawny and victim to some intense bullying, yet is able to understand their motivation super quickly and easily, which is definitely not likely to happen in a situation like this. But while most of the characters don’t get a lot of development and there’s an amazing coincidence involving two kids with powers that happen to go to the same school that is never explained, the story overall moves along quickly and kept my attention. The climax may have been a little on the easy side, but I don’t mind that, especially in a book for a younger audience. The story this first book sets up is intriguing, so I’ll definitely be continuing the series.

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Book Review: Lightning

Lightning
by Dean Koontz

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Science fiction thriller

Laura Shane’s life has been marked throughout by lightning events, both figurative and literal. During some of the hard times she’s experienced, a mysterious man has shown up to help her in some way—her guardian angel. As she gets older, though, her guardian slips into myth in her mind. When he appears again, it’s on the worst day of her life, and Laura’s life becomes one of fear and paranoia. Even as she begins to understand the depth to which her guardian has been involved in her life, she wonders if she’ll ever be safe again.

I never cared about Koontz when I was younger, probably thinking he was all horror, and I have never cared for horror. My husband (maybe my boyfriend at the time, I don’t recall…it was around 20 years ago) recommended this book, and I remember being pleasantly surprised. I’ve never read another Koontz since, but that just left this to keep a special place in my heart. I don’t know why it took me so long to read it again, but I’m so glad I did! The suspense is really high at certain points in the book. Laura’s guardian, Stefan, is a sympathetic hero, especially when you learn more about him and where he comes from. And though Laura herself isn’t my favorite main character, I can appreciate the way that the various difficulties in her life shape her into the person she becomes as an adult.

Time travel isn’t exactly original, but not everyone does as good a job as Koontz did here. The things that could and could not be affected, the way there are natural limitations to avoid paradoxes, it all makes sense. And what is done by characters to try to get around that can be a little mind-twisty, but it makes for a great read! I know there were a few points when I wondered if it was really necessary to see so much of Laura’s life that don’t really relate to the grander story. I think it was mostly there to build up our connection with Laura. Whatever the reason, it never made me bored. As a stand-alone sci-fi thriller, Lightning definitely worth reading! I know I’ll re-read it again in the future.

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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: Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park
Book #1
by Michael Crichton

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Science fiction thriller

Up front, I will say that the movie probably influenced my reaction to the book, so if you’re looking for an unbiased opinion, you may want to go elsewhere. Jurassic Park is one of my top 3 favorite movie franchises, if not the top, even though I can certainly admit that there are some duds in there. I just don’t care; I love them anyway. I did read this book once, back in high school, most likely because of how much I already liked the first couple of movies then.

Now reading it again, I think I appreciated it even more than I did back then. Yes, the science gets a little long-winded, as do Malcolm’s speeches, so I might have skimmed a little. But that doesn’t keep me from enjoying a book. Outside of that, there is a lot of excitement, and even though Malcolm won’t shut up, I really liked his character. The race against time caused by the juvenile raptors on the boat headed for the mainland adds even higher stakes. And the book doesn’t make quite as many huge leaps about dinosaurs that paleontologists couldn’t possibly know for sure, but rather the characters have to learn about them and deduce what they can expect as they go.

I have seen the movie too many times to not have been constantly comparing the two as I read, and I even made some notes to help myself keep both the similarities and differences straight (some were things that were used in the 2nd movie, even though there’s also a 2nd book). But I do think the book stands on its own and should be read by fans of the movie, which is more famous than the book, but does owe its existence to the book.

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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 Compass

The Compass
The Adventures of Niko Monroe
#2
by Tyler Scott Hess

My rating: 2.5 / 5
Genre: Christian fantasy/sci-fi

It’s been a year since Jack’s unexpected adventure in the mind of Niko Monroe some time in the future, with no new rumblings from the map and letters that sucked him in. When new markings appear on the papers, he’s not prepared for what happens next to Niko and his friends, for whom a year has also passed.

Though I enjoyed the book that preceded this one, I had some difficulties with both storylines of book 2. There are basically two different stories being told—that of Jack in present time, hoping to complete a group social studies project in time for Christmas Eve and that of Niko dealing with a future where a specific group of people are heavily persecuted for their beliefs. In the present time, Jack and his friends are 11 years old working on a project where they’re supposed to create a people group complete with culture, language, etc. While it makes some sense for Jack’s glimpses into Niko’s life and the future world to influence his work on this project, it doesn’t influence him in ways that make much of sense to me. In fact, the kids’ discussion of the project doesn’t always make sense to me in general, and they seem to go around in circles a lot. These kids also talk and act far older than 11, and one of them is way too quick to resort to violence in response to even mild joking. Along with some other issues I had, it all led to me feeling really disconnected from this side of the story.

Unfortunately, I also felt pretty disconnected from the other side of the story too. Niko spends all of his time either in prison (sometimes the prison is plush, but it’s still prison) or on the run. But his counterparts spend a lot of time learning, doing, and acting. Then Niko hears about it after the fact in very vague snippets, as they are always hesitant to give him any real information. So the reader doesn’t really know anything either, until things are revealed near the end, which are too little, too late. It all felt a little too contrived to provide suspense, but mostly I just felt left out. And on that note, I was really hoping that the Maiden would not turn out to be who she ended up turning out to be, because it seems too cliche and I don’t really get it.

I think what I was really missing, though, was the “why.” I mentioned in my review of the first book that the beliefs the persecuted people are following is probably meant to be Christianity, but it’s not stated all that clearly. They reference the “King” a lot, but there weren’t even any references to God in this book, while the previous book had at least a few. In fact, the one thing from the previous book that had seemed to be God intervening turns out to have been an act of man! Essentially, the people in this book are being persecuted for not falling in line with the government more than anything else. They even state themselves that what they most want is just to be left alone, to be free. It’s usually a secondary statement that they would also want to share their beliefs with others. But what beliefs? Because I really don’t know what they believe other than that “the King” will guide their paths, even though it seems more like it’s the Maiden who’s been guiding their paths.

As is the case with so many reviews I write, it’s clear that there are plenty of other people who really enjoyed this book, so please be sure to check out their reviews at the link below if the book is of interest to you.

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