Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Maze Runner (A Trilogy)

Pro: Good stuff
Con: Some slight far-fetchedness

The Bottom Line: If you want serious post-apocalyptic stuff or if you liked the movie but haven’t read the book yet, read the book.

I don’t often jump on bandwagons. Occasionally I’ll read a book to see what the hubbub is about, but not too often. My personal reading list is already too long. But after I saw The Maze Runner’s movie trailer, I decided.

That looks kick-ass. I want to see the movie first. Then I’ll read the book.

Mind you, that doesn’t happen often. …At all. But that’s what went down, and here we are.

Thomas doesn’t remember anything. Just his name. So it’s pretty disturbing when he is pulled out of a metal box and into the Glade – a place where dozens of boys currently live raising animals, tending fruit trees…and every day heading out into the Maze. The Maze always changes, and at night gruesome creatures lurk its twists and turns. The goal? Find a way out. But with the arrival of Thomas, things change, and the very next day a girl arrives in the box with a note: “She’s the last one ever.” That’s when things go from bad to much, much worse.

There is a LOT of stuff going on in here. You’re right along with Thomas for the ride as you try to figure out what’s going on, why these boys are here, and how they’re going to get out. The movie only puts you slightly ahead of the game, as it’s not entirely the same as the book (surprise). You wonder about who put them in there and the purpose of such a terrible place. And what’s more – what happens when they actually do get out. Thomas is constantly thinking, constantly questioning, and you’re doing the same thing with him.

All the characters are nicely fleshed out, and you quickly come to like guys like Newt, Minho, and Chuck. Dashner is skilled with his descriptions, as crazy as some of the things he describes are, you’re still able to picture them in your brain, though you’ll still find yourself wondering just how the Maze got built, what’s up with the Cliff and it’s long fall down, and how all these kids were supposed to figure this stuff out.

I mention a bit of far-fetched stuff, though maybe it's not really that. More like small things that popped into my head such as, “This experiment is terrible – not in a horrific way, but just as typical experiments go, the design is awful,” or “So Grievers have spikes that come out of their body – and yet people have zero problem with jumping on these things?” Or how they figure out how they’re supposed to get out of the Maze – that’s so convoluted and disjointed, no one would ever actually make those connections without prior knowledge (which is the purpose for a certain batch of chapters, I suppose, but if that never happened, the test would fail, and I guess everyone would die, but then you’re out of a solid batch of people, but what do I know?).

But those are easily set aside and you can let yourself be swept along in the insanity. I wanted to know how it compared to the movie and to see if I could glean any extra information from the book that I read the entire thing in pretty much one sitting. Got it at the library around 1pm, finally finished the book around 6:30 or so. Even when you want to put it down, it’s pretty hard to do.

Movie Comparison (if you’re interested)

So I might as well do a bit of comparison-ing. I liked both the book and the movie. The movie worked out well in the way that Warm Bodies worked out. There are a lot of things in the book that simply wouldn’t translate well over to the big screen and were perfectly fine to cut out. This may bother loyal followers of the movie, and I can understand, but the movie stands very strongly on its own two legs, and in fact, some thing that they changed I like better. Mostly because they make more sense (particularly the escape).

There are several characters that are cut out as well, but again, that’s something I’m okay with because you can do what needs to be done with the number of people that the movie uses, especially when other characters, while familiar and perhaps even close to you (so to speak), don’t really have much to offer other than dialogue and another body to fight or die. Other changes are small and okay – at least to me – such as certain deaths near the end, the map room, or the fact that Alby wasn’t a total jerk in the movie.

So go read the book or watch the movie. Either way, you’re going to have an interesting time.

After that, gear up for the Scorch.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

When a Scot Ties the Knot (A Book Set in a Different Country)

Pro: It's an enjoyable Highland romance - what else do you want?
Con: Nah.
The Bottom Line: Fun romance to read in the tub with some chocolate. Or whenever.

It started out as a joke. One of my co-workers requested I make an entire recommendation shelf devoted to romance books with giggle-worthy titles. The prank was that another co-worker's name would be on the recommendations - which he would never make. As I scanned various titles (including Wallbanger, and Sex Becomes Her), this one did indeed make me giggle, so I added it to the shelf. (Please note, I do enjoy romance and know that it's a huge industry. Our prank wasn't to make fun of that - but just to get a reaction from someone.)

To be fair, the reaction we got was pretty great.

But as I read up on the summaries of these books to at least make some sense in the recommendation (fake though they were), this one did happen to catch my interest. And I already knew Tessa Dare was an accomplished romance author. So I ended up picking up a copy from the library.

Maddie doesn't want to be out in English society. She'd rather stay away from balls and dancing and social gatherings. Instead, she aspires to be an accomplished artist and enjoys the quiet solitude of her own company. But when the pressure is on, she thinks up a quick lie that spirals out of control. She creates Captain Logan MacKenzie, a sweetheart she met while away (as her family hoped she might). For years their "correspondence" goes on as he is away in the military. Until finally she realizes she can't keep up the charade and conjures up his death. Which is fine, since he's not even real.

Until he is. And he's on her doorstep. And he's mad about everything - and ready to collect on the marriage and everything that comes with it.

I wanted to know just how the hell this guy showed up. How did someone she create become real? So I read. And it made sense. I mean, why not?

Each character's motivations work well. Logan wants a place for his men, Maddie can finally stop feeling like a fraud. Except she's not too keen on consummating the marriage and making it official. Marrying a stranger isn't exactly appealing, especially when his desires don't include her in the least. So her goal is to try and find the letters and destroy them. Then he'll have no proof over her and she can get out of this little debacle.

I had a good time reading this and I found it different in that there wasn't ever a bad guy. No clear-cut antagonist beyond Logan and Maddie's reservations around one another. Which is interesting. I kept waiting for someone to pop up and cause trouble, but it never happened. I guess it's because I'm used to those sorts of things in romance. There wasn't ever really a huge misunderstanding between the two, either - another barrier that tends to crop up in romances. I mean, there was one small one, but it wasn't anything major and was resolved pretty quickly. So it felt different, but that was all right.

It's a fun little romp if you need a good bit of romance to keep you entertained. It's your classic timid English girl and sexy Highland scot pairing, but that's always enjoyable to read - especially when the setting is out and about in the wild open world of Scotland, complete with beautiful vistas, lochs, and the occasional bog for our hero to pluck the heroine from. Enjoy.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Dinosaur Lords (A Book Based Entirely on It’s Cover)

Pro: Interesting concept
Con: …Are we there yet?

The Bottom Line: “Jurassic Park meets Game of Thrones,” reads George R.R. Martin’s tagline. Oh if only, Mr. Martin. If only.

I first saw the cover for this book a long while back on Twitter and made a mental note. Dinosaurs and fantasy coming together? Hell yeah I’m in. So when I finally, finally saw it in the store, I picked it up. I had high hopes. I mean the tagline alone was a huge lure. After all – Victor Milán has created a story with people fighting on dinosaurs with swords and armor. How could I not like this?

Unfortunately there’s a lot in here that just didn’t work well for me. And I hate to emphasize this but…a lot. And it really bums me out because I really hoped to have a great time reading this. Instead, I almost quit 30 pages in and decided if I wasn’t interested enough by page 100, I was going to stop altogether. The book held on – albeit barely – and I made it to the end. But I was left disappointed and don’t intend to continue with the series when the next book comes out. Because yes, it does indeed end in clearly-there-will-be-more-books fashion.

When it comes to the plot, one could describe it as Jurassic Park meets Game of Thrones – however, both of those things are infinitely better. One half of the book is political intrigue that isn’t very interesting and that features characters that are equally uninteresting. There's Jaume, the best soldier in the land who follows orders even if they’re terrible and he knows it. Melodia, a princess who sounds like she could kick ass but seems more like she’s all bluster and never really does anything. Her father the emperor who is the biggest idiot in power I've ever seen, and Falk, the bad guy whose bad guy-ness isn't even hidden (which sort of ruins the whole "intrigue" bit) and despite being skilled and powerful is a total lapdog to his mom and a servant despite complaining about it all the time. Their story is slow and features zero mystery or surprises.

The other half of the book features Rob, a dinosaur master that lords hire and then shit on, something I didn’t understand (why would you be an asshole to the guy in charge of handling all your dinosaurs? Shouldn’t that be a position of honor? And actually, now I'm starting to question the title...) and Voyvod Karyl, the brooding super-badass who’s the most interesting character of the group because he isn’t an idiot and the gods clearly have designs for him. Their job? Teach a bunch of people to learn how to fight in order to defend themselves. Rob and Karyl’s ventures take multiple wholly uneventful chapters that could have easily been skipped for the sake of time and jumped forward to more interesting events.

Despite all the dinosaurs thrown at you, both in getting you to read the book and actually in the book, their inclusion is a bit of a letdown. Warriors don’t ride meat eaters as we all would expect, and the reasoning for this (which I’m sort of assuming) isn’t all that great. Instead, they’re on hadrosaurs. Go look that up. I’ll wait. True, they’re bigger and more dangerous at running people over than horses, but it’s still not all that impressive. You could take just about every dinosaur out of this book and replace it with an animal we’re all familiar with and it wouldn’t cause much of a ripple.

An issue that cropped up early on that gave me a few red flags is simply the sheer number of names and point of views thrown at you in quick fashion. I feel like there should be some kind of fantasy rule of thumb that says don’t put more than 10 characters on the page within the first few chapters. If I remember right, even if I skip over the Prologue, Milán dumps at least 6 or 7 different POVs by page 40. He’s certainly fine with throwing dozens of names at you in Tolkien fashion. People have multiple names/titles, and so do some of the dinosaurs. The first chapter flings you into the middle of a battle that is confusing as hell for a multitude of reasons, this being only one of them.

Now, at the beginning of the book, Milán makes it clear; this is not Earth, nor any version of it. And yet throughout the entire book we get people speaking in what is very clearly Spanish, likewise we get words that are very clearly echoes of today’s peoples – i.e. Frances (hm, French perhaps?), Anglysh (gee, English, maybe?). This totally defeats the purpose of us not thinking in terms of Earth. And I get that maybe Milán is using Spanish as his fantasy language, but that doesn’t work for me. You can’t just chuck a real language into a fantasy world. It’s distracting and totally takes you out of said fantasy world. “But Nicole, the entire book is in English!” Yeah, you’re right. It is. But when it comes to that sort of thing, I always think in my mind that the book has been translated into English so I can read it. What about Spanish readers, then? They’re not getting anything fun or special when characters just break into the language that's already on the page. Readers are supposed to decipher fantasy words through context or be told what they are later or have them purposely left to mystery. I know enough Spanish that I could read just about everything. And if he's not using Spanish as his fantasy language then...what the heck is the point? I simply don’t understand the logic behind it.

There are other, smaller points I could get into, but I won’t bother. Just know that overall, it was really disappointing. It holds so much promise and numerous possibilities, but it just fell flat. I wish Milán success, and I’m sure there will be some fans that enjoyed this and will read his second book. I just won’t be one of them.


P.S. Truth strikes once again - don't judge a book by its cover.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Empress Game (A Book by a Female Author)

Pro: All the good things you want in a space opera.
Con: It’s the first in a trilogy and it just came out. FRUTT!

The Bottom Line: If you like space opera or Dune, this is something you’ve been waiting for and I suggest you pick up yesterday.

Rhonda Mason was a part of the Seton Hill Creative Writing Program. So was I. Rhonda’s gone and gotten herself published and on the shelves. And every now and again when that happens, I like to pick up one of my fellow graduate’s work and take a look-see.

Ms. Mason does not disappoint.

The Empress Game deposits us into a galaxy controlled by councils made up of people from numerous planets. But there is a seat open on one of the main councils – a very powerful seat. That of the Empress Apparent. The only way to win that seat is through ritualized combat, and certain individuals have decided to bring in someone who knows how to fight and who can win. Kayla Reinumon is that ringer, but what everyone else doesn’t know is that she’s exiled Wyrd royalty. It’s cheating, and they all know it. If they fail, they die. If they win, everyone might just get what they’ve always wanted.

That’s the book in a nutshell. A terrible nutshell. Trust that I really don’t do this book justice. That’s because the setting is huge on a scope of Dune or Star Wars. Thousands of planets and peoples with all manner of technology and politics and plans. But the scope doesn’t get exhausting. You’re zeroed in on specific characters at all times, and focused on what they’re doing because it’s so danged important. You get a taste for the galaxy, but don’t drown in it.

When it comes to the story, characters, and, well, everything, this book made me mad. Why? Because I couldn’t freaking read fast enough! I’m becoming an impatient reader, and when something is good, I admit, I start cheating. I sneak peeks ahead to see if someone is going to kiss someone else, if someone dies, or what someone’s super-important backstory is. I totally cheated with this book. Several times. I just wanted to know! But the only way to get it all is to actually read it like a normal person. It’s just one of those books that make you lament that you have to go to work in the next ten minutes or that dinner is waiting for you on the table. “Just spoon it into my mouth for me, will you? I need to finish this chapter.”

All the characters are likeable. Kayla was a very strong woman with her weaker moments, just like any person would. Malkor was, in a way, sort of the stereotypical badass with a soft n’good side, but I really don’t care. I love those guys no matter where they show up or how stereotypical they might be these days. When a man sticks around with you even though there’s a possibility of nanites eating your face, that’s a winner.

There’s plenty of excitement with the occasional downtime, which gives the pacing a good feel. The fight scenes are well-executed, and you get a little bit of everything. Swords. Knives. Hand-to-hand combat. While a few plot moves are predicable, on the whole you won’t really know what’s coming. And the bad guy is excellent in the way that he’s not even a bad guy you love to hate. You just straight up hate that guy because he’s one sick sonofabitch.

My only peeves are that now I have to wait for more books. Going in I really didn’t know if there would be more or not, and given that I hate waiting, was really hoping that it would be a standalone, but alas – total cliffhanger. And the other peeve?

Let’s talk about “frutt” for a second. “Frutt” is a made up word clearly meant to replace “fuck.” Now, I don’t care if cursing is replaced, but I swear every time I saw this word my brain immediately read it as “fruit.” No joke, while writing this, I even spelled fruit first. It does kind of bug me, though, when fuck is replaced with another f-word (let’s not talk about “frack”), or when swearing elsewhere is a-okay, but for some reason in the galaxy “bullshit” made it in, but the highly versatile and fantastic to say “fuck” did not. If you’re gonna go, then go all in. Don’t pansy out on one swear word for whatever reason. Frutt that.

But if you want to watch a woman kick tons of ass, need a new galaxy to explore, and maybe even sneak in just a touch of skin (go Kayla, whoo hoo!), this should end up on your next To Read list.


Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Whoops! I completely forgot to mention this. Last month I reviewed Stephanie Garber's amazing book Caraval for the web blog I curre...