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.

Find out more about The Scorch Trials

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

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.

Find out more about Jubilee Manor

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Time and Again

Time and Again
History Mystery #1
by Deborah Heal

My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: YA Christian sci-fi

Abby takes a volunteer job as a live-in summer tutor for an eleven-year-old named Meredith and moves into their large, old house in a once-thriving railroad town. After spending some time trying to bring the unhappy, spoiled Meredith around to the idea of studying, and exploring the neighborhood a bit, Abby and Meredith discover a strange secret on the brand new computer Abby’s estranged dad bought her–they can follow their house back in time and watch the lives of people who lived there in the past.

The first thing I want to say is don’t get too hung up on the categorization of this book as “time travel.” It’s not what almost anyone would really consider time travel. Abby and Meredith can watch the past, and even in some nebulous way “hear thoughts” from at least one person they’re watching, but there is no traveling in time. They call it time surfing. And while I did have some issues with this book, by the end, I realized I had mostly enjoyed it, and plan to continue with the series.

It takes a long time for anything to really happen. We get to know Abby and Meredith as the former gets settled in and the latter balks against all forms of learning. I found Abby to be not a terribly nice person, kind of even haughty sometimes. And Meredith is just a spoiled brat, plain and simple. She acts older than her age at first too, especially when she’s acting out. I also had to wonder if college-student Abby had ever interacted with a boy before when she meets John Roberts and acts like a middle-schooler.

When the time surfing really got going, I found myself a lot more wrapped up in both of the storylines. Meredith began to be less bratty, probably as much because she’s got someone spending time with her and showing real interest (make no mistake–divorce and single parent-ship can be really hard on a child). And the story of Charlotte, the young woman who lived in the house in and around the Civil War, was interesting.

There are a few things that really took me out of the story, which are likely a result of the book being self-published. A jarring lack of scene transitions, for example. And, for a book so focused on history, I was seriously shocked to see Abby say that in pre-Civil War times, Illinois (the state they’re in) bordered the slave state of Ohio. Not only has Illinois never bordered Ohio (Indiana is in between), but Ohio was not a slave state.

The book is novella-length and not a difficult read by any means. I’m definitely curious to see where the series goes from here. I would recommend this book for readers of Christian fiction, especially those who like history.

Find out more about Time and Again

See what I’m reading next.

Book Review: Armada

Armada
by Ernest Cline

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Science fiction

When Zack Lightman sees an alien ship from his favorite video game flying around outside the window at school, he’s sure he’s going crazy. He’d just be following in the footsteps of his dad, who’d died when Zack was a baby. Zack had found notes his dad had kept about a massive conspiracy that involved just about every alien-related movie, TV show, and video game ever made being used to prepare the world for a real alien invasion. But when he finds out that it’s all real, and so is that ship he saw out the window, and that he and other gamers are going to be called upon to save the world, will he be up to the task?

As someone who isn’t a huge fan of this type of sci-fi, I don’t have a lot to compare it to. I am aware of the similarities to The Last Starfighter, but don’t really remember that movie. Still, even I felt like this whole story had been done before, and that there wasn’t enough of a new twist on it in this book to make it fresh. In the end, I was left feeling like the slow build-up didn’t have enough of a pay off.

My husband thought I’d like it more than Ready Player One, though couldn’t explain why. I think it might be due to the fact that the heavy amount of 80s references in RPO were lost on me, and perhaps he thought references in Armada to Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. might hit closer to home. Unfortunately, they didn’t. This was partly because the references to things I actually know more were lighter than those to movies and games I don’t have much, if any, knowledge of. But it’s also partly because the references saturated the story so much. Characters quoted movies or games with no context, events or situations were likened to movies, etc. that I wasn’t as versed in as they were, and thus, I couldn’t get into the story like I was probably meant to. And in the end, if you strip away all of these sci-fi pop culture references, what do you have? Just a simple invasion story that’s mostly been done before.

Yes, there was a bit of a twist at the end, but it wasn’t that shocking or interesting to me. By that point, the events and narration had led me to a point where I didn’t feel like I could trust anything that anyone said, anything that happened. The truth that was revealed was even speculated by Zack earlier in the book, which made the reveal that much less exciting.

The only time I really remember feeling all that interested in what was going on was at the very end, after the reveal. The falling action and the epilogue…that’s what I wanted to know more about. But if a sequel to this book ever came out, I don’t know if I would care enough to read it.

Find out more about Armada

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

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.

Find out more about The Maze Runner

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

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.

Find out more about Spark

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Time Benders: The Machine

Time Benders: The Machine
Time Benders #1
by J.B. Yanni

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: YA science fiction, Christian

When the four Fitzgerald children are orphaned, their aunt sends them off to boarding school. There, the four siblings grow closer than they had ever been before, as they rely on each other in their grieving and new, sudden situation. As the kids settle into life at the school, eldest sibling Ken begins to investigate the circumstances surrounding their aunt taking custody of the kids and excluding them from the will reading. Meanwhile, his brother Joe, a math and science whiz, finds a fascinating math problem, coupled with a machine. When he discovers that the calculation might just be the secret to time travel, the kids have to decide whether or not they should go back and prevent their parents’ death, and how they would even do that.

I have to say that this book was really not for me. There were two main areas that brought the story down the most for me, and sadly one of them was the plot itself. The other area was the writing style. I’ll explain a little:

Time travel plots can be difficult to do well, and since they always require suspension of disbelief, for some people, it doesn’t pay to be too picky about what you’re expecting from one. However, the assumptions the kids make in this book about how time travel would work for them and anyone who didn’t come along one the trip make no logical sense to me. And even when they see evidence that it doesn’t work that way, I don’t see them re-thinking their ideas. Also, they decide to go back and change a major point in history (won’t say what it is due to spoilers), because they feel that it will stop the beginning of a long progression of events that led to their parents death. And yet, they say more than once that they’re sure changing this major point won’t affect their friends’ families and lives. Even after saying that this event will potentially change another event in history, which affected millions of lives. It just makes no sense to me. And it’s not because they’re kids, since they’re generally shown to be smart (the oldest, who isn’t even one of the professed brains in the family, is going to Harvard). Oh, and I almost forgot that as the kids debate whether they even should go back to stop their parents’ deaths or not, their arguments actually make it seem like they’re against doing it…even as they decide to do it.

The writing itself seemed like it needed some more work. From the very beginning the dialog just felt stilted, and I realized that the kids don’t use contractions as much as an average person in America would. A lot of the story is told in a way that feels very zoomed out, rather than up close to the action. Conversations are told to the reader, rather than shown. For example, “she told him she wanted to go to the store, and he said he thought that was a good idea,” rather than seeing the actual conversations taking place. Coupled with these zoomed-out conversations having little to no explanation of what anyone was doing while talking, they felt shallow. A lot of the time, the story felt more like an outline (though granted, a really detailed outline) than a final draft.

I found the question of whether or not there was something sinister in the way Aunt Alicia handled the estate and kids she was charged with after her sister’s death more interesting than the time travel part of the story, which is sad, because it kind of fizzled out. The rest of the plot involved everyday life for the kids–they had classes, holidays away from school, got boyfriends/girlfriends, at least one lost a boyfriend/girlfriend, etc. I think far too much of that was shown, considering how little it affected the plot, but it probably wouldn’t have bothered me too much without the other issues I’ve mentioned, or if it would have at least served to show the kids’ personalities more. But there wasn’t much there.

I found this book when I saw the author was putting out the 2nd in the series, and wanted to see if it would be a good series to get into. Even though the first book ends on a huge cliffhanger, I don’t think it hooked me enough to put money into reading the next one. There may be an audience out there for this book, and it might just be the teenage audience that it’s meant for, though I personally wouldn’t recommend it to the YA group either. The book is in at least 1 Christian category on Amazon, and I could see where some of that was trying to come out. It might be brought out more in the next installment, but I can only speculate. I applaud the author for the work she’s put into this book, truly, but I think it needs quite a bit more work to be the great book it could be.

Find out more about Time Benders: The Machine

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: Deep State Stealth

Deep State Stealth
Nanostealth
#4
by Vikki Kestell

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Christian sci-fi thriller

Nano 4

Spoiler notice: The following review will contain spoilers for the previous books in the series–Stealthy Steps, Stealth Power, and Stealth Retribution.

Now that Gemma (make that Jayda) and Zander are both super-powered and married, they’re all set to save the president’s life (again). Tasked with rooting out the conspiracy that did not end with the death of the vice president, Jayda will go undercover in the NSA. Will she and Zander be able to root out the corruption and get out of the espionage business?

I struggled with this book quite a bit early on. I almost gave up on it after the first few chapters. But I stuck with it, and when the storyline about the conspiracy involving the president got going, the story picked up. In the end, though, this was the weakest book in the series, in my opinion.

This book has the odd distinction of being a bit too religious for me, and yet having some things that made me uncomfortable, especially in a Christian book. I’m not against Christianity in a book by any means. But in a book of this type, it’s much better off being spread out, rather than shoved at the reader all at once, which is how the beginning of the book felt. But even while that was happening, there were discussions of and references to the newlyweds’ “nap times” that were just too much for me–both near the beginning, and later in the book too (nothing graphic, but uncomfortable). And throughout the book, there was a lot of “bleeped” cussing. I know that Christian authors have to decide how to handle real-world language in their books, and Kestell’s approach isn’t a bad one, but there was a lot of it. And my mind does fill in the missing words, so I got a point where I was irritated by the amount of cuss words the book was putting into my head.

I don’t mean to imply that the book was bad, though. It provided more resolution to the rest of the series than I expected. There was a reveal later in the book that I thought was going to turn out to be anti-climactic, but was pretty interesting. And going into this book, I was really worried about the way the 2 clouds of nanomites behaved at the end of the previous book–almost like a form of sibling rivalry, and I was happy to see that that was largely downplayed in this book. Like with the previous book, the main plot was engaging, and I really liked the way Jayda and Zander utilized the nanomites.

One more thing–like with the previous book, this one is written in mixed perspectives. Most of it is 1st-person from Jayda’s point of view, with some 3rd-person if the author wanted to show things happening with other characters. For as strange as it was in the previous book, it was even more strange in this one, as more than once, Jayda herself was referenced in one of the 3rd-person sections, and it took me out of the story, since she’s the character whose eyes we view most of the story through. The writing style in general really isn’t for me.

Looking back at the series as a whole, it has its pros and cons. The story itself was good–I really liked the premise, especially the initial accidental invisibility, and Gemma learning to work with the mites. The author’s style and insertion of religion detracted from the series overall, but I think many other Christians wouldn’t be so bothered by the things that bothered me. Be sure to check out other reviews if you’re interested, as there are many positive ones for this series.

Find out more about Deep State Stealth

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

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.

Find out more about Fahrenheit 451

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Middle grade mystery, sci-fi

When You Reach Me

When she got the first note, Miranda was able to convince herself it was just trash–it wasn’t necessarily meant for her and didn’t mean anything. The second one couldn’t so easily be dismissed. Then she begins to unravel a mystery that involves her once-best friend, the crazy man on the corner, and a break-in where nothing was stolen. Can Miranda put the pieces together in time to prevent a death?

I am so glad I decided to see what this book is all about. Though it’s for a younger audience, it intrigued me when I saw it on a fellow blogger’s Top Ten Tuesday list a few weeks back. It was such a great read! I liked the book’s feel of living in a big city in the 70s, which was based on the author’s own childhood. The mystery was seriously engaging, and even the chapter titles were wonderfully themed!

The chapters are mostly short, some as short as 2 pages (on my Kindle, so probably less in a book format), which kept the story moving, even when a lot of the earlier chapters covered backstory that brought the reader up to date on the “present time.” Also, the main character’s mom is practicing to be on the game show The $20,000 Pyramid, and most of the chapter titles are themed around that (ex. “Things That Burn”), which is also explained well enough in the story that younger readers, who wouldn’t know the show at all, will understand it too.

I had my theories about who wrote the notes, going back and forth between 2 people before deciding on one. When the big reveal happened, though I suspected most of what was revealed, it still left my breathless for a moment. It was so well done!

I will say that I think Sal was maybe a bit more mature in his thoughts and decisions about friendship than makes much sense for a boy his age, but other than that, I loved everything about this book. I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good mystery, with some time travel thrown in. It is middle grade fiction, but I don’t think it the younger audience makes the story any less readable for adults.

Find out more about When You Reach Me

See what I’m reading next.

If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!