Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Death Cure by James Dashner

7864437Title: The Death Cure (The Maze Runner, Book 3)
Author: James Dashner
Published: October 11, 2011
Pages: 325
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publisher Link: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

The Gladers (or at least some of them) have done it.  They made it through the Maze.  They survived the Scorch.  And now their trials are finally over.  But some of them are sure things don’t seem quite right.  Can they trust WICKED?  Is there more going on here than they’ve been told?  And what exactly is WICKED’s endgame?  Will the truth really set them free?

Talk about an action-packed conclusion to this trilogy!  After the slow moving story of The Scorch Trials, this final installment really brings it home–not only by wrapping up the story and bringing things full-circle, but also by serving up an enthralling story.  I may have even liked this better than the first book (even though there are some parts that are just absolutely heart-wrenching), to be perfectly honest.  Dashner has created a wonderful world that I’m glad to have experienced.

The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

7631105Title: The Scorch Trials (The Maze Runner, Book 1)
Author: James Dashner
Published: October 12, 2010
Pages: 360
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publisher Link: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Having made it through the trials of the Maze, the Gladers expected to find freedom.  But what they soon learn is it was just the beginning and there another and potentially more difficult challenge left of them in phase two.  To top that off, they’re not alone – there’s another set of “Gladers” being tested in similar ways.  The challenge: make it through the Scorch in two weeks or die.  And it’s nowhere near as easy as one might think…

I enjoyed this as a nice follow-up to The Maze Runner.  It continues some of the same elements, there are some interesting twists and revelations, and it serves as a good set-up for book three.  This one moves a bit more slowly at some points, which made it not quite as engaging as the first book, but I still found it quite enjoyable.  I’m definitely interested in seeing how this will be adapted to the big screen later this year.

Disclaiming Free Books

Every once in a while, you will see a disclaimer at the beginning of a review indicating that I’ve received a free copy of a book from an author, publisher, publicist, etc. in exchange for an honest review.  I believe these disclaimers are important for the sake of transparency and for readers of this blog to make an informed decision regarding their reading of the reviews posted here.  That said, I did want to take a moment to discuss why I accept free books in this way, what impact that has on my choice to review a book and the review’s content, and why I put the disclaimer at the top of the review instead of at the end as a footnote.

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The Maze Runner by James Dashner

6186357Title: The Maze Runner (The Maze Runner, Book 1)
Author: James Dashner
Published: October 6, 2009
Pages: 374
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publisher Link: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thomas wakes up in a strange place with no memory of who he is, where he’s from, or why he’s there.  As he quickly learns, there’s something sinister going on and it is likely the exact reason he can’t remember anything from his past.  So he joins with the rest of the guys – the Gladers – in trying to find a way out of the Glade and through the maze that is serving as their prison.  But it’s not as easy as it sounds.  And when a girl shows up not long after Thomas with a note that changes everything, the need to overcome that challenge and find a way out is more important than ever…

I did something here I don’t normally like to do and saw the movie before reading the book.  But it worked this time because doing so meant I actually was able to enjoy the movie and then enjoy the book because the book is SO MUCH BETTER.  If I’d read the book first, I feel like I would have spent large portions of the movie rolling my eyes and going ‘That’s ridiculous.’  The story in the book is richer and more detailed and (though this is science fiction, so it’s not always a requirement) makes so much more sense.  I guess that’s one of the advantages to being able to tell a story with words instead of needing to have a fast-paced, visually stunning action film that is marketed to people with relatively short attention spans.

But enough on that.  Dashner has created a very interesting world here and while there are some of the expected YA dystopia cliches, this one does stand out as unique to me in a number of ways.  I do appreciate that there isn’t a huge focus on romantic elements (at least in this book) and more on actual survival and trying to solve the problems that are in front of them.  I certainly jumped on the next installment as soon as I was able to do so…

Infected: Prey by Andrea Speed

8393603Title: Infected: Prey (Infected, Book 1)
Author: Andrea Speed
Published: June 24, 2010
Pages: 376
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press (re-released by DSP Publications)
Publisher Link: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Roan McKichan is an ex-cop turned private detective who is infected. Infected with a virus that essentially makes him a werecat. And, of course, society is wary of the infected and they’re actively discriminated against in many circles. But when a series of murders occurs that appears to be a spree committed by the same cat, Roan–and his partner, Paris–find themselves caught up in the investigation. And truth of it is something that will change their view on what it means to be infected completely.

Which then leads into part two of this story in which Roan and Paris investigate a series of murders of infected people that appears to be connected to the Church of the Divine Transportation, a cult that worships the infected.

I really wanted to love this book. I feel like the concept is something with a great deal of potential. The problem I found is that it drags quite a bit, especially in the first half. There are some twists to keep a reader interested, and that keeps it engaging enough to be worth a read.

The Melody Thief by Shira Anthony

15767793Title: The Melody Thief (Blue Notes, Book 2)
Author: Shira Anthony
Published: August 23, 2012
Pages: 230
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Publisher Link: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Cary Redding is a renowned violinist by day with a bit of a wild streak by night. After he is mugged coming out of a club after another anonymous hookup, he finds himself rescued by Antonio Bianchi, a lawyer who quickly draws Cary’s interest. Cary never expects to see him again, so he gives him a fake name and backstory. But can he keep up the charade as he finds himself more and more drawn to Antonio and wondering if maybe he’s finally found what he’s been looking for.

While this is the second book in the Blue Notes series, there’s no real direct connection to the first book. All of the books can be read as stand-alone stories. It was great to read a romance that was set in the world of classical music. As a classically trained musician, there were parts of this that really spoke to me in ways that I hadn’t entirely expected.

The flow and build of the relationship between Antonio and Cary really seems to work here. I did feel like the business with Cary’s family stuff seemed a bit drawn out, but I fully understand why it was included as part of Cary’s arc.

Ratings, Ratings, Ratings…

So over in the sidebar one can now see a very brief guide to the way I rate books.  It’s obviously a simplistic description, but it pretty much gets at the core of what each rating generally means to me.  I’ve included how I define one- and two-star ratings for context, though I don’t review books with those ratings for the blog.

As I was putting this together, I decided to look at some stats on how I rate books using my Goodreads account, and here’s what I found out:

  • As of today (I just finished a book this morning), I’ve given ratings to 678 books.
  • My average rating is 3.32.  I think it makes sense that the rating skews to above 3 since I’m choosing the books I read and it’s reasonable to assume I’m mostly going to pick books that contain elements I typically find enjoyable.
  • My most common rating is 3 stars (255 / 37%).  Since this is the middle of the scale and corresponds with books I enjoyed but didn’t necessarily have me jumping up and down repeatedly and screaming the title from the rooftops, this also doesn’t surprise me.  The second most common is 4 stars (239 / 35%) which stands to reason, again, because I’m going to choose books to read that I’m likely to enjoy.
  • I’ve rated 111 (16%) books as 2 stars.  Sometimes there are books I think I’m going to enjoy only to find it’s not as well-written as I would like, the description doesn’t match the story so it’s not in the realm of what I enjoy, or there are other problems (in my opinion) with the book.  So it’s well behind the 3 and 4 star ratings, and understandably so.
  • I’ve only given 15 (2%) books a 1 star rating.  Since I tend to reserve this for books that I absolutely do not recommend and that I question how exactly they got published, it is used sparingly and that’s reflected in the numbers.
  • The top of the heap – the 5 star rating – contains only 58 books (8%).  I tend to give a top rating sparingly, as well (though clearly not as sparingly as a single star), because these represent the best books I’ve ever read.  I’m glad to see that without consciously doing so, I’ve kept this to less than 10% of everything I’ve read.

Nothing really surprises me here, but it’s very interesting to look at the numbers and see that they reinforce some of the abstract thoughts I have about how I use the rating scale.  Hopefully this also gives more context for readers of this blog in understanding what those stars mean on each of my reviews.

The Ninety-Ninth Bride by Catherine F. King

23725228Title: The Ninety-Ninth Bride
Author: Catherine F. King
Published: December 16, 2014
Pages: 37
Publisher: Book Smugglers Publishing
Publisher Link: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Dunya is in a bit of a predicament. The fifteen-year-old has been given to the Sultan as a bride by her father. Ninety-eight Sultanas have come before her, all suffering the same fate: execution at dawn. But when a mysterious woman shows up while Dunya is waiting for the Sultan, there’s a chance that everything could be different this time around.

I’m all about well-written retellings of popular stories, especially when they’re different enough to have a new layer of meaning or a different message. That’s exactly what Catherine F. King has done here. There are some great messages in here about family and gender and empowerment and human existence in general. The characters have real dimension to them and I absolutely enjoyed the journey King took me on as a reader. I look forward to reading more of her work.

The Best SF/F of 2014…

Due to the ridiculousness of what happened yesterday with the Hugo Awards ballot, I just wanted to take a moment to say that I still look forward to discussing and celebrating excellent science fiction and fantasy works during the voting period, regardless of the slate of nominees.  I’ll be featuring a number of works here on the blog and am certainly open to hearing from others about things they enjoyed that missed making the ballot, as well.

The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan

9067850Title: The Throne of Fire (Kane Chronicles, Book 2)
Author: Rick Riordan
Published: May 3, 2011
Pages: 452
Publisher: Disney Hyperion Books
Publisher Link: link
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Carter and Sadie Kane recently learned the surprising and life-changing history of their family. But they won’t get much time to process it as Apophis is rising and the rest of the House of Life isn’t keen on helping them stop him. The only solution seems to be finding and reviving Ra, but doing so may mean embarking on their most perilous journey yet. But can they do it before Apophis breaks free–something that seems inevitable to happen in just a few days’ time?

Of course, I love these books. Modern takes on mythology always interest me and Rick Riordan puts these stories together in such an organic and interesting way. There’s a bit more action in this book than the first, but I also think it provides an opportunity to better understand the way in which the Egyptian pantheon exists in the Kanes’ world. I was definitely left looking forward to seeing how things wrap up for them in the final book of the trilogy…