Archive | November, 2010

Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

22 Nov

Series: Maze Runner, Book #1

Published: October 6th 2009 by Random House

Details: Hardcover, 374 pages

My Rating: 3.5/5

My Summary:

Set in dystopian future. Thomas wakes up in a lift that takes him up to an expanse populated with dozens of other kids, surrounded by a maze. Together they have to find a way out before they’re killed. Not as amazing as the similar Hunger Games. Action-packed and with an intriguing premise, yet I felt slightly disappointed at the end. Sequel Scorch Trials out now.

A few chapters in:

As you know, I loved The Hunger Games. Which is why lately I have been looking for, not only the next Twilight, but also the next Hunger Games, meaning a mind-blowing dystopian young adult fiction.

Not surprisingly, The Maze Runner comes to mind. Ever since it was published a year ago, it has drawn comparisons to The Hunger Games. And so, I had to see for myself, is it as mind-blowing? Is that even possible? Time to find out!

I’m now a few chapters in. Thomas, our protagonist, wakes up in a lift. He has no recollections of his former life, in fact, all he remembers is his first name. When the doors of the lift open he finds himself in “The Glade”, a huge expanse surrounded by massive stone walls, and met with a dozens of other boys, ranging from 12 to 17 years old.  He soon learns that all the boys have arrived through that lift, with their memories wiped clean, just like Thomas.

And things just keep getting weirder. During the day, there are four exits left open in the stone walls surrounding The Glade, inviting the boys to explore the maze outside. Yes, a giant maze surrounds the place! Every night the exits close, whether to protect the boys from horrors outside or to prevent them from escaping, I don’t know.

After only a few chapters, my mind (along with Thomas’s) is already swarming with questions. Let’s just say I’m intrigued!

After finishing the book:

Ok, I have finished the book. What did I think?

Well, I know that I loved the beginning with the intriguing mystery of a maze with moving walls. Yet, it wasn’t as great as I expected it to be. Still an enjoyable read, and I kept reading because I wanted answers to all my questions. But it never truly gripped me and I’ll get to why in a moment.

Like I said, the start of the book was as intriguing as it gets. We have Thomas finding himself in “The Glade”, with a dozens of other boys. All their memories have been wiped clean, and no one knows anything about who put them there and why. All they know is that “The Creators” are providing everything they need to get by, and that a gigantic maze surrounds the place. It’s assumed that the only way out is to find a way out of the maze. The only problem is that the walls of the maze move, and that the grievers (some sort of horrible monsters) come out at night, restricting their exploration of the maze to daytime only.

Quite early on we realize along with Thomas that somehow he is special. Despite his memory loss, he senses a strange familiarity to the surroundings, especially the maze. What is also weird is that as soon as he arrives, things start changing.  Previous to his arrival, the boys have been having more or less the exact same routines for nearly two years. Not surprisingly, the sudden rupture of these routines scares the boys, causing some of them to cast suspicious looks at Thomas.

A few of the boys however are on Thomas’s side right from the start, in particularly Minho, Newt and Chuck who all came across as really nice guys, each in their own way. There is also one girl involved, who arrives soon after Thomas, but spends most of the time in coma.

All of this, which I just described, really intrigued me. I wanted to know how the boys were going to solve the maze, which role Thomas played in the whole thing, who the girl was, and generally why the boys had been thrown in there in the first place!

However, while we do get answers to some of these questions, I couldn’t help but feel disapointed at the outcome.

—  SPOILERS!!  —

Firstly, their escape was not how I expected it to be. I mean, they figured out the solution thanks to Thomas recuperating some of his memories. But if he hadn’t remembered what to do, they would never have gotten out. Hence, the smart logical solution I was expecting, something that would make me go WOW, I never thought about that!! – turned out to be no solution at all.  Given the intriguing mystery of the premise, I was expecting some clever solution. So even though it was exciting to see them fight their way out, it was also bit of a let down, if you get my drift.

—  END OF SPOILERS  —

What I also found somewhat disappointing was the lack of depth in some of the characters. I did care to some extent for the supporting characters Chuck, Newt and Minho, but I felt oddly detached from Thomas. Not that he bothered me but I felt indifferent to what happened to him, which I’m pretty sure was not the intention of the writer. When the girl woke up from the coma, I had a hard time caring for her too, and I didn’t feel the connection the two main characters supposedly had. Possibly, because we are only told that they used to know each other but never shown any background story. (Which makes sense given their memory loss). This may grow into something more solid in the sequel. I hope so.

The Bottom Line:

Disappointments set aside, I did burn through the book in a matter of days, eager to find the answers to all my questions (some of which are still left unanswered). It’s a good book, a page turner and the start of an intriguing albeit slightly depressing series. If you like dystopian fiction I recommend you to put it on you TBR-list. But it wasn’t the type of amazing book that have you gasping out loud. For that, you need characters that you truly care about.

The sequel is called Scorch Trials, which I will most likely read in the near future. After all, too many question marks are left hanging and I remain curious to what will happen next!

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Review: Penitence by Jennifer Laurens

18 Nov

Series: Heavenly, book #2

Published: April 29th 2010 by Grove Creek Publishing

Details: Paperback, 322 pages

My Rating: 5/5

My Summary:

While Heavenly was great this sequel was hands-down amazing!! A must read! Not one boring moment, what with Zoe seeing both good and bad spirits and trying to choose between two equally amazing guys. Involves the first love triangle I read in a while that actually feels real! Loved it from start to finish. Be aware though of abrupt ending. Last book called Absolution.

A few chapters in:

This is the sequel to Heavenly, which ended in such a way that it is nearly impossible not to want to continue this series straight away. I enjoyed Heavenly, for the good writing and characterisation, but was a bit frustrated with all the questions hanging in the air. Hopefully, now I will get some answers!

Before writing anything else, please be aware of that if you haven’t read Heavenly this post will contain some serious spoilers!

In the last pages of Heavenly we followed Zoe in paradise as she reunited with Matthias. She felt overjoyed to finally be able to share his world, but also sad of course, for leaving her family behind. Conflicting emotions to say the least.

This is why I threw myself over Penitence, anticipating a great read about Zoe’s discovery of the world of Matthias. But I was mistaken. Right at the beginning, Zoe’s body starts claiming her back. The doctors at the hospital are attempting to revive her, and as they are succeeding, she has no choice but to return to mortality, thus leaving Matthias behind.

Hence, this book really starts off in a hospital bed. Zoe is, much to her family’s delight, slowly recovering from the terrible car accident that almost took her life. Once again, she’s torn by conflicting emotions, happy to be reunited once again with her beloved family, yet achingly sad to be separated from Matthias. Speaking of which, where is he? Ever since she left paradise he is nowhere to be seen, and she fears that she may never see him again.

Yep folks, this is as far as I’ve got, but I have to say it’s promising. I’m starting to grow really attached to Zoe’s family, what a lovely bunch of people! And I’m looking forward to see what will happen next, because at the moment, I have no clue!

After finishing the book:

I know that after reading Heavenly, I was slightly disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great read. But it lacked that extra something that makes a book amazing.

Well folks, Penitence more than well made up for that. WOW! That’s all I have to say. This is what I call AMAZING. Unputdownable! I kept reading into the wee hours of the night, always thinking – just another chapter then I’m done. Yeah right! Somehow it was magically 3 o’clock by the time I went to bed, and I had to work the next day!

So after all this preamble, why was it amazing? I’ll try to assemble my thoughts, always proving more difficult when I’ve read a WOW-book. I wonder why that is?

First, let’s start with the obvious. Laurens proved in Heavenly that she writes great effortless prose with wonderfully fleshed-out characters. What I loved in Heavenly was that like in real life, people aren’t perfect. Everyone comes with good and bad traits, and in the end it’s the choices we make that define us. This continues in Penitence, as all the characters expand into real people with backgrounds, motives and choices to make, including secondary characters such as Krissy and Chase. Consequently, I loved reading about them all!

Secondly, the unpredictability. I thought I knew where this was heading. Boy was I wrong! And boy did I like being wrong! I love it when I have no clue, and it feels as if I’m on the same rollercoaster ride of emotions as the heroine, not knowing what to expect from one minute to the next. Wonderful!!

Thirdly, the love triangle. This phenomenon seems to be implemented in every other young adult series these days, but they usually feel fabricated, as if it’s thrown in there just to create some emotional drama. We know pretty much right from the start who the heroine will pick.

Now, that was not the case here. I had no clue. After finishing it, I still have no clue. I won’t reveal who the other boy is who is viewing for Zoe’s attention in Penitence, but he is something else. Most importantly, he presents a possibility for Zoe to experience love on earth, which is precisely what Matthias can never offer her. And he’s gorgeous, a turned-around Casanova who wears his heart on his sleeve. Oh my, I melted!

Matthias is still perfectly divine and glorious. I know I complained about that perfection in Heavenly, and called for some flaws to make him interesting. Well, the love triangle solved that problem as it brought out the jealousy in him,  which strangely enough made him that much more intriguing!

Consequently, I felt as torn as Zoe was. All though, to be honest, I think I may be leaning more towards the human boy. Their growing relationship in Penitence is the core of this book. It felt grounded and real, starting very slowly as Zoe is struggling with trust issues. After all, this boy wasn’t the nicest character in Heavenly. But I believed in their chemistry and devoured every moment they had together, more so than between Zoe and Matthias in Heavenly.

The bottom line:

Finally, I loved all the subplots, the evil Albert, the black spirits, Brady and Britt, Chase and Krissy and of course Zoe’s family in the background. All of this combined made an action-packed yet emotional drama. There was not one boring moment, hence the page-turner effect!

My only minor criticism is the abrupt ending, that felt as if the writer just dropped the pen mid-page. But given the wonderful ride until that page, I cannot but give this book anything less than 5 stars. I’m now eagerly waiting to read the final book in this series, Absolution!

Review: Heavenly by Jennifer Laurens

11 Nov

Series: Heavenly, Book #1

Published: August 15th 2009 by Grove Creek Publishing

Details: Paperback, 296 pages

My Rating: 4/5

My Summary:

About Zoe whose life changes the day she meets the guardian angel of her autistic sister. This is a story about a family in shambles, interwoven with an epic love story. Great read, with a surprising end that will make you want to read the sequel Penitence right away.

A few chapters in:

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time. It has received great praise throughout the blogosphere, and the core of the story is paranormal romance. Needless to say, I’m intrigued!

Now only a few chapters in, and I’m already feeling the magnetic pull. I have a feeling this is one of those “read-in-one-sitting” books.

This is the story about 18-year old Zoe. She has a sister, Abria, who is a 5-year-old girl with autism. This is not easy to live with, and has put a strain on the whole family.  They all deal with the burden differently. Zoe’s brother is loosing himself in a haze of weed clouds and Zoe hides her stress in alcohol, parties and boys. Even though I’m only a few chapters in, it’s painful to watch this poor family going downhill, slowly loosing control of their lives and burdened with guilt for not being able to take care of their daughter/sister.

Things are about to change though, and it happens the day Zoe is out frantically searching for Abria, who has, as usual, sprinted off in one of her escape attempts. Suddenly a boy appears with Abria in his hand. Eyeing him suspiciously, Zoe takes Abria from him, thanking him for finding her. Not long after, he appears again, bringing back Abria from another attempted run-away, making Zoe start to seriously question the strangeness of it all.

And this is as far as I’ve got, but like I said, it’s pulling me in as I’m writing this. Now gotta go back to reading!

After finishing the book:

Ok, so just finished it. I admit I didn’t read it one sitting like I expected to, but close enough. So what did I think?

Well after having read an endless stream of glowing reviews, my bar was set exceptionally high. I was expecting nothing less than a mind-blowing rollercoaster WOW-sort of book. Was it all that?

No, it wasn’t. Yet, it was a great read, and a great start to a series. I’m jumping on the sequel as we speak, which is always a good sign.

As for the plot, as hinted earlier, this is the story about Zoe and her family, all dealing with the autistic Abria in various ways. Pretty early on in the book, Zoe meets Matthias, the guardian  angel of Abria, and immediately finds herself drawn to him.

From there you would think an epic love story is about to be formed. And yes, there is romance, but I would say the core of this book is Zoe’s family and the issues they are trying to work through. During large sections of the book, Matthias is completely absent, and instead we are dealing with Zoe’s and her brother’s addictions, an indirect result of their parents never-ending focus on Abria.

At first I was surprised that the family played such a forefront in this book, all their frustrations, faults, love and affection for each other displayed on the pages. It felt like having a front row into a real family’s most private sphere. I read somewhere that Laurens had personal experience with an autistic child, and that you can tell. I doubt anyone without the experience would have been able to portray the complexity of emotions you would feel towards an autistic child. This book really gives you a window into how that would feel like, and it’s heart-breaking to watch.

Zoe is barely keeping her head above water when she meets Matthias, and he changes her in many ways, basically making her a better person. Which shows, in her actions towards her family, and her changing relationship with her best friend Britt.

Matthias himself is as divine as angels go, and sorry for saying this but a teeny-weeny boring. Radiating warmth, reassurance, calmness, beauty and absolutely perfect. No wonder Zoe falls in love with him. As for me, I’m hoping for at least one flaw, as to make him a bit more interesting.

As the story moves on, there appears to be some heavenly rules to follow. But here we are kept in the dark, as Matthias consistently evades any of those important questions. That frustrated me a bit. I wanted at least a few answers, and I don’t like it when too much is hanging in the air. And what about Chase? I still haven’t figured out the role he will play. I assume and hope he will show up in the sequel.

The end. Well that really threw me. You’ll understand when you get there. And is it only me, but I had a tiny lingering feeling that Matthias’s intentions may not have been all that good towards the end. If you’ve read it you might know what I’m talking about? Or am I just imagining this, because after all he is an angel! Unable to have anything but good intentions, right? Yet, it was all a bit too convenient, wasn’t it?

The bottom line:

To cut it short,  the ending definitely left me confused, hence why I’m now throwing myself over Penitence!

Review: Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder

5 Nov

Series: Study, book # 2

Published: October 1st 2006 by Luna

Details: Hardcover, 392 pages

My Rating: 3.5/5

My Summary:

I loved Poison study, and was really eager to continue Yelena’s adventure in this sequel. It starts out great with Yelena reconnecting with her family, native country Sitia and her magical powers. Unfortunately, in the last third of the book the plot spirals out of control – too many villains, sideplots and should-be-impossible escapes. Overall good, but it lacked that magic that was Poison Study.

A few chapters in:

I loved watching the romance unfold between Yelena and Valek in Poison Study – the first book of the series. Such a wonderful read!! Now I’ve finally got my hands on the next book in the series, Magic Study. I noticed though that it hasn’t received the same kind of praise as its prequel – which somehow doesn’t surprise me – it would be difficult to top Poison Study. But still hoping for a good read as it’s about Yelena – one of my favourite heroines!

Now a few chapters in. At the end of Poison Study, Yelena is forced to leave Ixia when it’s discovered that she knows magic (which is prohibited in Ixia). She leaves Valek behind and travels to Sitia with the fourth magician Irys and some of the other children from Braxell’s orphanage in order to reunite all the kidnapped children with their families.

However, when she is reunited with her own family, she feels as lost as she did in the castle of the commander in Ixia. Fourteen years have passed since she was taken away and she has no recollections of that previous life in Sitia. Her parents seem lovely and are happy to have her back, but her brother Leif doesn’t give her the warmest welcome – in fact quite the opposite. Unfortunately Leif is the one assigned to accompany her to The Magician’s Keep where she will begin her magic study with Irys, her mentor.

This is as far as I’ve got but I’m getting a feeling that we will be introduced to a lot of new characters in this sequel. Nothing wrong with that of course, but I hope that previous characters will show up as well, Valek in particular.

Let’s see how it plays out..

After finishing the book:

Ok, so I finished the book. Looking at how long it took me to read it, you can get an idea of what I thought.

First three chapters took me a couple of days (actually – this was mostly because I was finishing another book at the time), the next 200 or so pages swished by in a blur as I read the whole middle part..in about  a day!

The last 100 or so pages? Now this part (if anything) should have constituted a race-through-the-pages, to you know, find out how it all ends. Yet, this part took me about a week to get through.

So yes, it starts out well – following the footsteps of Poison Study perfectly. Then something happens, or rather, too many things happen – mainly consisting of a large variety of sadistic magicians wanting to kill Yelena – and I found myself loosing interest. There are only so many kidnapping scenarios you can get through (even in a fantasy novel), before it grows tired.

As for the plot, Yelena returns to her native country Sitia in this book, where she reunites with her lovely parents and hateful brother Leif. Not many pages in, the first kidnapping scenario takes place. Cahil, the forgotten nephew of the murdered Ixian royal family, kidnaps Yelena thinking she is an Ixian spy. Yelena fights back (and I loved the fact that she’s strong enough to do that), which earns her a place beside Cahil on his travels towards The Magician’s keep where she will begin her magical training.

At The Keep, she begins her training with Irys, her mentor, and it’s soon evident that her powers  surpass even those who have been magicians for years. Meanwhile Cahil and Yelena continue a complex relationship not sure if they are friends or enemies. Of course, as a reader, you assume that it won’t be too long until Valek appears. And seeing as Valek is the very one who murdered Cahil’s entire family, you anticipate an interesting conflict for Yelena. So far, I was loving it!

Then Valek does appear, along with some other favorite characters from Ixia, and I’m sad to say that this is where the plot got out of control.

First of all, Valek himself was a disappointment. Not many dialogues are exchanged between them. And I felt he had lost that fierceness we came to love about him in Poison Study. What made Yelena and Valek my favorite couple in the prequel was that they were both so head-strong, providing passion and conflicts to their relationship. Here, Valek has been dismissed to being a flat character merely there to provide Yelena with help whenever she needs him, to move the plot along. And while I’m at it, what’s up with Valek calling her “love” in every single sentence? Don’t know why but that annoyed the crap out of me.

Now back to my point – the plot did get out of control in that third part of the book. Yelena (along with the Sitian council) is chasing one sadistic magician who has been torturing and murdering young women in Sitia (very similar to Mogkan in Poison Study). But as if that wasn’t enough, about 3 or 4 (I lost count) others are after her as well, providing subplots in the last 100 pages.

The Bottom Line:

Consequently, what started as a really promising book, what with all the wonderful descriptions of Yelena’s native country and her magical powers, ended in a bad B-movie with too many villains and seemingly impossible escapes for our heroine.

In addition to all of this, Yelena has become too strong. Meaning, the fighting skills she improved in Ixia combined with her increasing magical powers make her impossible to beat. Now, I don’t mind a butt-kicking female character, but this added to my lack of interest in the final pages. No villain was ever a match for her! Hence, the lack of suspense. There was always some obscure magical ability she could use to disarm whoever was threatening her. Yawn.

It was much more fun watching her growth from insecure and weak prisoner to butt-kicking heroine in Poison Study, just saying.

As for the third book in this series, Fire Study, I am now a little bit hesitant. I would like to finish the series though and probably will, but I don’t think it will happen anytime soon.

Review: The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong

2 Nov

Series: Darkest Powers, book # 2

Published: May 1st 2009 by HarperCollins

Details: Hardcover, 368 pages

My Rating: 4/5

My Summary:

Great sequel to The Summoning, where we follow Chloe and her supernatural friends on the run from the evil people of the Edison Group. Includes some sweet moments of Chloe and Derek together. Not many questions answered though – guess that will finally be provided in the last installment The Reckoning.

A few chapters in:

If you’ve read the first book in this series, The Summoning – you’ll remember the cliff-hanger ending. And it starts just where it left off. Chloe is once again locked up by the very same people who ran the Lyle House, which she ran away from in The Summoning.  So she is back to where she started, and worse still because this time they are aware of her being a threat, and so she is under constant surveillance.

She may have someone there who can still help her though. Liz, her former room-mate at the Lyle House who was taken away, and now appears as a ghost whenever Chloe summons her. But does that mean Liz is dead?

Meanwhile, Derek and Simon are on the run, and Dr Davidoff and his team are eager to find them. While pretending to help Dr Davidoff, Chloe plots her own escape plan, finding an unexpected ally in Tori – her enemy from the Lyle House.

And this is as far as I’ve got, but it’s promising. What I like the most so far is the fact that I have no idea where this is heading. Apart from Chloe finding the brothers, which I assume will happen soon, everything else is a huge question mark. Let’s see how it plays out..

After finishing the book:

So I finished the book last night and I’m left with exactly the same feeling I had when I finished the prequel – I wouldn’t call it amazing but it’s definitely a solid 4, as in, a great fast-paced read.

The plot is quite simple. As hinted above, pretty early on, Chloe and Tori manage to escape the Edison group (which is what the rulers of the Lyle House are called). Soon after, they meet up with the guys. During the rest of the book, we basically follow them while on the run.

Just like in The Summoning the plot trots along in a great pace (neither too fast nor too slow) so that you’re always turning pages to find out what will happen next. Yet there is room for character development, mostly for Chloe and Derek who get some time alone here. As a fan of Derek, I really enjoyed reading those passages. There is no romance yet, but I sure hope that will happen eventually, because they are just so adorable together!

The Bottom Line:

All in all, I enjoyed it just about as much as The Summoning. The only negative aspect was that it felt like a middle book, essentially a filler to provide us with character development and a plot that merely served as an instrument to lead us up to the grand finale in book three. Not much happened, apart from the escape and the final pages, and I had expected more questions to be answered. Yet, I wasn’t too bothered by all of this seeing as I’ve come to like the characters so much.

So, what now? Well, I definitely have to get my hands on The Reckoning – and that quick – as I’m anticipating an even better read there than the first two, what with the grand finale and all – which hopefully (please please please), will include Derek and Chloe getting together!