Book Review: Dreamscape–Saving Alex

review-cover-dreamscape saving alexTitle: Dreamscape: Saving Alex

Author: Kirstin Pulioff

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Adventure

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Sixteen-year-old Alexis Stone is used to getting away from life’s frustration with Dreamscape, a video game she’s loved since childhood. As her family prepares to move, a sleepy night of gaming pulls her into the world like never before. Trapped in Dreamscape’s realm, Alex is about to learn that being a hero has consequences… and this time, the stakes are deadly. Will helping the rebellion cost her everything she knows and loves? Or will she betray them to save her own life?

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

What a hidden gem. I picked this book up on a whim because it was free on Amazon. The cover was pretty, it was a genre I liked… I thought “Why not?”I didn’t expect to fall in love with this book as thoroughly as I did.

I was engaged from the very first page—though I’ll admit that at first, Alex wasn’t high on my list of favorite characters. She whined and pouted and was so full of teenage drama and angst that I’m surprised she didn’t lay on the floor and throw a tantrum. That’s probably the parent in me speaking. That being said.. I hated her mother even more, so I was willing to side with the teen. Throughout the book there was a wide array of characters with different personalities, some that I liked, some that I didn’t, and some that fooled me and forced me to change my opinion of them. Alex was definitely one of those. She grew throughout the story at a natural pace, and before I knew it, she was a pretty spectacular person. I adored her. The only person I liked more, was Arrow.

Technically speaking, the story was exceptionally well written. I didn’t run into any obvious typos or errors, no grammatical fumbles or awkward sentences. The pace moved steadily along at a nice pace, and I lost track of time. For six hours, I got sucked into Alex’s world, and I didn’t come up for air until the end of the story. The book was filled with grand adventures and quests, colorful characters, daring battles, deadly traps, and a heartbreaking romance. I couldn’t have asked for more.

My only complaint was the ending… because I really, REALLY wanted just one more chapter… or, you know, a continuation of the book. Why is this not a series?

Overall, I loved the book. If you like YA Fantasy and you’re looking for a fun book filled with crazy adventure, hijinks, and a bit of a romantic subplot, I would urge you to pick up this book and give it a try. It’s going on my keeper shelf… and then I’m going to hand it to my daughter. There’s some mild gore/violence/romance involved, but nothing I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable handing to my 12 year old.

Book Review: Back Roads Kingdom

review-cover-back roads kingdomTitle: Back Roads Kingdom [The Back Roads Cycle 1]

Author: Christian O’Neill

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Adventure

Rating: 5 (4.5 Stars)

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Description/Synopsis:

Just ahead on the highway, there’s an exit ramp no one’s ever noticed before.

At the edge of the woods, a trail you can only see if you know just where to look.

Hidden in your own basement, a door you’ve walked past a thousand times without noticing.

Congratulations. You’ve found the Back Roads. Good luck finding your way back home.

Penny Lazarus has spent her entire life wishing she could escape from the real world. Through it all, she had exactly one friend – her sister, Dana – and now Dana’s dead, drowned in the distant Pacific under mysterious circumstances. But she left something behind, meant only for her sister’s eyes: a surreal teen-road-trip screenplay, BACK ROADS TO VEGAS. Penny sets out into the wilds of West Virginia to make her sister’s movie…and winds up taking an unplanned detour, straight off I-64 and into a madcap alternate America.

Here, in the hidden country known as the Back Roads, every individual’s deepest desire emerges as a powerful supernatural ability. In Penny’s case, that means she’s a Veil, capable of turning herself invisible, intangible, ghost-like. Stranger yet, this is a place Dana somehow knew about. That bizarro screenplay? A veiled code, Penny soon realizes, embedded with clues leading deeper into the unknown. The only problem is that nearly everything in the Back Country is trying to kill her and/or drag her soul away to netherworldly depths.

Like the man-eating mosquitoes. And the gangs of slave-trading cyborg bikers, and the soul-devouring tree haunted by its long-dead victims, and the snake-handling zealot who’s mesmerized his flock into following him to the depths of Hell. Also, Death himself, who turns out to be kind of a jerk in real life.

She’s got help, too, for whatever it’s worth: a fierce mountain-woman werewolf and a guitar-slinging thief who slowly but surely ensnares Penny’s heart, entirely against her better instincts.

What she hoped to find was the truth behind her sister’s fate. But what awaits her at the end of the road is something even bigger – the dark secret of her own world-shattering destiny.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I was wary going in to Back Roads Kingdom by Christian O’Neill. To be honest, the cover threw me off. It looked vaguely anime and featured fox-eared and magic wielding people, and I was more than a little afraid that I was going to open the cover and find out some anime fan boy had scribbled out a melodramatic fantasy tale with goofy dialogue and ridiculous villains. If you too looked at the cover of this book and thought “eh… maybe I’ll pass this one by” STOP. Pick up this book. It isn’t what you think.

I’ll admit, diving in to the narrative, I was a little put off. The beginning of the story wasn’t the easiest to follow. Littered with flashbacks, absent twins, and mentions of bouts in a mental institution, I had a hard time sinking into the story. It took me awhile to grasp what was going on—but once I did? You couldn’t pry the book out of my hands with a crowbar—even with one that may or may not turn into a magical flaming sword.

The characters were brilliantly complex, each with their own motivations and personalities. The world building was familiar but also lavishly unnatural, and despite the back and forth switching between memories, the present, different dimensions, and different view points, the text was easy to read….if a little hard to follow at first. Confused? Yah, me too. The story reminded me of following Alice (or Penny in this case) down the rabbit hole, and instead of ending up in Wonderland, I ended up in the Appalachian Mountains—complete with hillbilly witch doctors that swig hexed moonshine, and snake-handling preachers with the ability to mesmerize any poor fool to cross their path—and that barely scratches the surface of what Penny encounters in the Back Roads.

I don’t want to spoil this story for you, but I can say this: It wasn’t what I expected. It was complex, filled with adventure, good natured hijinks, and some ill-natured trickery. If you’re looking for a fresh idea on a modern fantasy, I highly recommend you check this out. I cannot wait for the second book in the series!

Book Review: From What I Remember

cover-review-from what I rememberTitle: From What I Remember…

Author: Stacy Kramer & Valerie Thomas

Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Romance, Adventure

Rating: 5 (4.5 Stars)

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Description/Synopsis:

KYLIE: MEXICO? What a nightmare! I should be putting the finishing touches on my valedictorian speech. Graduation is TODAY! Wait! Is this a wedding band on my finger??

MAX: It started with Kylie’s laptop and a truck full of stolen electronics, and it ended in Ensenada. It was hot, the way she broke us out like some chick in an action movie. But now we’re stranded here, with less than twenty-four hours before graduation.

WILL: Saving Kylie Flores from herself is kind of a full-time occupation. Luckily, I, Will Bixby, was born for the job. And when I found out she was struck in Mexico with dreamy Max Langston, sure, I agreed to bring their passports across the border. But there’s no reason to rush back home right away—this party is just getting started!

LILY: This CANNOT be happening. It’s like some cruel joke. Or a bad dream. I close my eyes, and when I reopen them, they’re still there. Max and Kylie Flores, freak of the century. In bed together. If Kylie thinks I’m giving him up without a fight, she’s dead wrong.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I loved this book, and I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt. Even though the rating was more of a 4.5 for me, I’m going to go ahead and mark it up to a full 5 stars. From What I Remember by Stacy Kramer and Valerie Thomas is at its heart, a good old-fashioned road trip adventure. It’s about a tenuously connected group of teens that get sucked into the road trip of a lifetime and the ensuing chaos as they try to make it back home in time for their high school graduation.  There are bar fights, late-night swims with dolphins, car chases, kidnapping, and a dubious group wedding on a dock in Ensanada—just to name a few hijinks.

The book was funny, quick-paced, and easy to read. I didn’t catch any glaring typos or awkward sentences. The characters (mostly) made sense (let’s face it, an angry teenage girl doesn’t always make great leaps of logic in times of crisis), and the dialog was believable. Though it was a long book by YA standards (a whopping 462 pages in my hardback copy), I felt sucked into the story from the very beginning, and finished the book in a matter of hours—taking only one much-needed break to sleep.

For the most part, I liked the characters—Max and Kylie especially. Okay, I’ll admit, I hated Lily. She’s just the type of person I can’t stand… manipulative, petty, and self-absorbed. I wasn’t a huge fan of Will either, despite his status as Kylie’s best friend. He was a little too “devil may care” for me. He stepped in a lot when he didn’t need to and made situations worse than they had to be. He was also extremely loyal to his best friend though, and I have to give him props for that.

The only major downfall of this book for me was the character of Jake. I get it… he’s sort of the token sibling with issues. He has Asperger’s, and while I appreciate the fact that he was added into the story for diversity’s sake… and it’s refreshing to see the world through a slightly different POV…he wasn’t an integral part of the story. His chapters had very little plot development and had he not been a part of the cast, the story would have faired just as well without him. Jake felt too much like filler in the long run.

That aside, I enjoyed the book. The characters weren’t exactly what I expected when I read the blurb from the characters printed on the inside of the dust jacket. I was expecting a lot of back-stabbing girl drama with some coming-of-age literary bits thrown in, and instead I got an adventure filled with laughter, love, and crazy events that spun wildly out of control in the best way possible.

I would highly recommend this book to any YA reader looking for a solid, fun, summer adventure story. The romance has a strong role to play in the drama, but it’s not the main focus of the story. This is really about a bunch of teens trying to figure out who they are and learning to let go of what high school and family expectations have molded them into. It’s going on my keeper shelf.

Book Review: The Legend of Drizzt: The Collected Stories (Audio Book)

review-cover-the legend of drizzt

Title: The Legend of Drizzt: The Collected Stories

Author: R.A. Salvatore

Genre: Audio Book, Fantasy, Anthology, Adventure

Rating: 5 Stars

Narrators: Felicia Day, Dan Harmon, Greg Grunberg, Tom Felton, Danny Pudi, Sean Astin, Melissa Rauch, Ice-T, Wil Wheaton, Al Yankovic, Michael Chicklis, & David Duchovny

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Description/Synopsis:

The Legend of Drizzt: The Collected Stories expands upon the epic legend of the dark elf with 12 tales performed by the all-star cast of Felicia Day, Dan Harmon, Greg Grunberg, Tom Felton, Danny Pudi, Sean Astin, Melissa Rauch, Ice-T, Wil Wheaton, Al Yankovic, Michael Chiklis, and David Duchovny!

For years, the Legend of Drizzt has included short stories published in Forgotten Realms anthologies and Dragon magazine. Available here for the first time in audio are all the classic stories by the New York Times best-selling author R. A. Salvatore!

From the startling origin of Drizzt’s panther companion, to the tale of Jarlaxle and Entreri’s first encounter with the dragon sisters, the tales in The Collected Stories enrich this vividly-imagined series by building the world around Drizzt through exploring the backstories of side characters and magical locations.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I’ve never been a fan of Dungeons and Dragons books. In fact, before now, I’d never read anything by R.A. Salvatore either. Sure, I’ve played D&D, but playing and reading about it are vastly different things. However, when I heard that Audible was giving away The Legend of Drizzt: The Collected Stories by R.A. Salvatore for free for a short period of time, I leapt at the chance to download it. I’ll admit, it was mostly because of the star-studded cast of narrators the book boasted; I make no qualms about being a huge Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton, and Sean Astin fan girl.

Oddly enough, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I actually really enjoyed this anthology of short stories revolving around D&D and one of it’s most beloved characters—a dark elf named Drizzt. The stories were short, but well-written. They were full of humor, wit, and colorful characters with ridiculous names that I couldn’t help but fall in love with. The narration was superb and well-voiced by an array of actors…. honestly, I was a bit blown away by how much I enjoyed the anthology. I never thought I’d see the day where I physically wanted to hug a little goblin… but that day has certainly come. So adorable, I tell you!

There are so many great stories in this set that it’s hard to pinpoint any single one as my favorite (although the first story was probably my honest-to-goodness favorite), but I would recommend that anyone who loves Dungeons & Dragons or fantasy give this audio book a try. You won’t regret it.

Book Review: The Scorch Trials

review-cover-the scorch trialsTitle: The Scorch Trials [The Maze Runner 2]

Author: James Dashner

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Dystopian, Post-Apocalyptic

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Solving the Maze was supposed to be the end.

Thomas was sure that escape from the Maze would mean freedom for him and the Gladers. But WICKED isn’t done yet. Phase Two has just begun. The Scorch.

There are no rules. There is no help. You either make it or you die.

The Gladers have two weeks to cross through the Scorch—the most burned-out section of the world. And WICKED has made sure to adjust the variables and stack the odds against them.

Friendships will be tested. Loyalties will be broken. All bets are off.

There are others now. Their survival depends on the Gladers’ destruction—and they’re determined to survive.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

Another great book by James Dashner. I started the Maze Runner series with my 11 year old some months ago, and we’ve now finished the second book together… and boy what a ride it was.  Like his other books, The Scorch Trails by James Dashner was well written. The writing was clear, easy to follow, flowed at a nice pace, and lacked any obvious errors. Other than the authors predisposition towards using commas without conjunctions, I found no technical errors or blips within the narrative.

Like the first book, the characters were well written—each with his or her own voice and personality, and though few of the characters get as much screen time as the golden few (Thomas, Theresa, Newt, Frypan and Minho), I didn’t feel like they were absent from the story. The world building was well done and I got sucked in easily.

The book was a bit darker than I’d expected, as odd as that may sound. The Maze Runner felt like a mystery adventure with bits of horror thrown in for good measure… but The Scorch Trials seemed to be more dark, more tense, and more gory than its predecessor. The pace was a little slower, and the narrative less humorous, but I think that it fit the book well. Every time I ended a chapter I felt the pull to press on—to discover what lay in store for the Gladers and Group B. I never wanted to put the book down.

There’s a lot I want to say about Theresa, Brenda, Jorge and Aris, but I’m going to keep it to myself. Anyone who enjoyed the previous book should give the second book in the series a look.  It’s a bit less light-hearted than the first book… a bit darker, but it’s still a fantastic read, and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. I’d happily recommend this to anyone looking for a smart YA Dystopian fiction to pick up. The book is fine for middle-grade readers… other than a few tame kisses, there’s nothing inappropriate… but it may be a bit scary for younger readers who aren’t used to horror. My 11 year old only got creeped out once (Hint: Nose. Vent. Table) but was otherwise unaffected. I loved the book, and I’m excited to move on to the third in the series soon!

Book Review: The Dark of Twilight

review-cover-the dark of twilight

Title: The Dark of Twilight [Twilight Shifters 1]

Author: Kate Danley

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Young Adult, New Adult

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Aein always longed to be a member of Lord Arnkell’s army, ever since she was a child working in the stronghold’s kitchen. When that day finally comes and she is sent to patrol the border’s swamp with fellow warrior, Lars, it seems like her dream has come true. But something has followed her home. When Lord Arnkell’s wedding is interrupted by a werewolf attack, the dream shifts into a nightmare… and Aein is the only one awake.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

First off: The cover is gorgeous. I tip my hat to the cover artist.

Technically speaking, this book is exceedingly well written. There were only two typos I found in the entire book (Pg. 54, Line 7 & Pg. 139, Line 28). The narrative was easy to read, flowed naturally, and had a quality of engagement that really attests to the author’s skill at writing. Despite the fact that this book geared to the YA/NA crowd, I never felt bored or talked down to, and none of the characters were overly whiney, dramatic, or angsty. I cannot emphasize how rare that is with a book of this age group these days.

The characters were equally well written. Aein was a strong female lead, even if she was relatively untested and a bit star-struck by the other characters around her. She stood up and fought when she needed to, and blended into the background when she didn’t. She wasn’t a fussy girl, and she wasn’t overly boy crazy despite the amount of eligible men running around the book. I couldn’t help but like her. Aein was a nice mix between a strong kick-ass heroine and a teen who was still trying to get her bearings in life. She made it easy to enjoy the story. Though there wasn’t a lot of depth to the characters other than Aein (who was always in the foreground, as she should be), the characters all had distinct personalities and blended well into the world building.

I only found two parts of this book hard to digest. The first, is the large amounts of time skips in the book. I’m not a fan of time skips. Don’t get me wrong… they weren’t that jarring. Despite the large chunks of time that went missing (particularly in the beginning of the book between Aein’s deployment to the swamp and her return), I didn’t feel like I was missing a huge chunk of her narrative.  In fact, the only reason I mention it is because it would have been nice to have had a little more time with the character that early on in the story, and I think it would have helped to solidify Aein and Lars’ deep friendship.

The second problem I had, and this is somewhat dependent on those missing bits of time, is the lack of heart-felt romance. There are two clear love-interests (okay three, but I refuse to count HIM) but there is very little romance to back up their relationships with Aein. When the relationship parts popped up, it felt like they were showing up out of the blue. I didn’t feel like Aein was particularly attracted to the two love interests, so when they suddenly were interested in her.. it was like “Whoa there buddy! Hands off!”

Otherwise, this was a great book. The world building was clear and well-constructed. The writing was engaging. The character weren’t annoying…and the plot itself was both clever and imaginative. I can’t say I’ve ever run into a werewolf-driven story like this one before. It was a joy to read. Would I read it again? Yes. Would I recommend it? Certainly. If you’re looking for a relatively quick read and you love stories filled with magic, werewolves and betrayal…. you’re probably going to really like this book.  If you’re looking to purchase this book for a teen, there is some gore but it is not described in such a way that would offend anyone, and the romance is clean. There’s no foul language. I feel perfectly comfortable handing this book to my 11 year old. Give it a shot.

Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

review-cover-howl's moving castle

Title: Howl’s Moving Castle [Howl’s Castle 1]

Author: Diana Wynne Jones

Genre: Children’s, Young Adult, Fantasy, Adventure, Romance

Rating: 4 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

It’s hard to talk about Howl’s Moving Castle (the book) without comparing it to the 2004 animated movie by Hayao Miyazaki. Though both similar and vastly different in various ways, both tell the fantastically beautiful and epic tale of Sophie Hatter, the elder, dowdy daughter of a hat maker who spends her days in the back room of her parent’s shop resigned to the dull life of adorning patron’s heads. On an unexpected whim, an old witch bursts into her hat shop one day and curses Sophie with the visage of a 90 year old woman…. and Sophie’s adventure begins.

The story is filled with demons, magic, castles that move on mechanical legs, star-eating wizards, and portals between worlds. This is a story of family, friendship, and love, and I adored nearly every moment of it. Like the movie, the book boasts a colorful cast of characters ranging from the very normal Sophie, to the insanely pieced together Turnip-Head scarecrow that bounds miles across the land in search of it’s missing pieces. There’s drama, hijinks, romance, and comedy sure to delight any middle-grade reader, and if you liked the movie, you’ll probably like this too. There are some major differences between the movie and book, especially towards the end, but I think for the most part, the changes will only add understanding to what may not have made sense in the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie (I highly recommend you do), this story is probably going to be a little more complicated for you to get through (there is a LOT going on), but it’s no less enjoyable without the movie to back it up.

The world building of the story is panoramic in it’s scale. There’s so much going on that at times it’s hard to soak it all in, but the world is rich and detailed in a way that can’t help but suck you into the story. The characters are distinct, colorful, and loveable in so many ways (Sophie and Howl of course being my favorites), but I will admit that the romance is a bit lukewarm. It’s understandable—this is a novel geared towards younger readers, but I couldn’t help but feel that the connection between Sophie and Howl, particularly at the end, seemed to be very loosely tied together. I really wish the story had delved deeper into their friendship and subsequent romance (and I certainly hope it develops in the later books of the trilogy).

Technically speaking, the story was pretty well written. There weren’t any obvious grammar, punctuation, or spelling mistakes, and the text was clear and easy to read. My only complaint, if one at all, is that the voice of the narrative is very “tell-y” There’s very little dialogue comparatively to the descriptions within the story, and at times it does feel like the author is spending too much time telling the audience what is happening rather than showing us… BUT I also realize that this was part of how stories were written back in 1986.

If I had a complaint at all about this book (and this is the largest reason why this got 4 stars instead of 5) it’s that the story can be overwhelmingly complicated at times. Particularly near the end of the book, a lot of plots are being brought together, our idea of what and who characters are is changed, and there’s a lot of conflict going on between the characters. It gets a bit “busy”. There are so many ideas and subplots going on outside of the main Sophie’s Curse plot, that it’s a little hard to keep track and understand what is going on. Think of it as trying to hear a particular conversation in a room of several dozen people, all animatedly trying to get your attention. It was a bit much.

Overall, I still loved the book. I don’t know that I loved it more than the movie (because it is one of my favorite Hayao Miyazai films), but I’d say that it’s certainly on par. I’m so glad to have been able to read this book, and I’d certainly read it again given the chance. I’m thrilled to be able to move onto the next few books in the series, and if you like Middle-grade / YA Fantasy, I’d certainly recommend this book.

Book Review: Bad Apple

review-cover-bad apple

Title: Bad Apple [The Warner Grimoire 1]

Author: Clay Held

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal, Adventure, Middle-Grade

Rating: 3 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Simon Warner isn’t having a very good October. To start with, he drowned, and then the real trouble started. Next thing he knows, he’s back among the living, there’s a ghostly voice rattling around in his head, and a nasty ghoul has burned down his home and kidnapped his adoptive father.

But even that is just the beginning. A mysterious stranger draws Simon deep into the hidden world of the supernatural: a dangerous place full of vicious monsters, cunning madmen, and unbelievable magic. There Simon finds not only loyal friends, but powerful enemies lurking around every corner, and a dangerous legacy that’s been waiting for him. Cheating death has also revealed a terrible secret: Simon is a warlock by birth, and with powers like his, he is destined to embrace evil.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I’ll admit, this book was a bit of a push for me. When I first picked up Bad Apple by Clay Held months ago, I didn’t enjoy it. A handful of pages in, I was ready to toss out the book. There were a few small typos—nothing too jarring—but mainly… the opening sequence just didn’t interest me. The narrative was wordy, awkwardly phrased, and it was hard to follow what was going on. In fact, other than providing Simon with a fear of water, the whole opening sequence didn’t seem to have any impact on the story as a whole. It was a bit like a needless prologue, and it bored me.

Months passed, and determined not to let this book become lost in the depths of my TBR pile, I picked it back up… desperately hoping that the second chapter would be better. To my surprise, it was. A lot better. The story quickly developed into a gripping, magic-filled adventure for 14 year old Simon Warner, and was filled with colorful characters. I’ll admit, I got sucked in.

I loved the character of Nathan—he was probably my favorite—and he reminded me of a character out of a comical wild-west drama. I mean, how do you not love a man who walks brazenly into a room and introduces himself as: “Nathan Alan Tamerlane, born in a summer storm, raised in the rain.” Likewise, I’ll admit some affection towards Penny, Luke, and the adorable Malik. Were all the characters as entertaining? No. There was a fair share of one-off characters that showed up, introduced themselves, and were never mentioned again. This includes Molly and Zoey, the two women in Simon’s life. They show up in the first couple of chapters of the book, and don’t reappear until the very last chapter. Frankly, by the time their names were mentioned again, I’d forgotten who they were.

For the most part, the story was well written. It kept a decent pace, the characters were interesting, and the world building was well fleshed out. Unfortunately, the book wasn’t all rainbows and puppies in that department. There was a lot to this book that wasn’t explained or resolved. In the end, the plot didn’t feel resolved, and it didn’t feel like Simon and his friends had actually accomplished anything. Other than rescuing Sam…. everything was left open. It was a bit of a disappointment in that regard. I really wish more had been explained or resolved in a way that made the ending feel more complete. I understand the need to leave the plot open for future books in the series—but the book felt like a bit of a goose chase. Simon’s adventure had him running around all over the place, learning new things and meeting new people, but he didn’t accomplish anything. He eventually returned home and things went back to normal. It wasn’t satisfying.

Overall, I liked the book. It wasn’t the best YA fantasy book I’ve ever read—in fact, it’s probably better suited to the middle-grade crowd. Simon wasn’t a super intelligent character, and he had a tendency to bumble along through the story, not understanding what was going on or listening to what anyone told him. This certainly wasn’t what I’d call an intellectual read. The novel had some definite flaws, but I did enjoy the adventure. Would I read it again? Maybe. I’ll admit, there were some times when I got lost and began to skim, and another read-through might give me a more solid opinion of the story. Would I recommend it? Yes. I think so. The series holds a lot of promise, and it has some really great characters.  I’d suggest this story for anyone who enjoys middle-grade fantasy adventures. It won’t be for everyone, but it is an entertaining read.

Book Review: The Maze Runner

review-cover-the maze runnerTitle: The Maze Runner [The Maze Runner 1]

Author: James Dashner

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers–boys whose memories are also gone.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out–and no one’s ever made it through alive.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

It honestly amazes me how many bad reviews I’ve read about this book. I’ll admit, The Maze Runner by James Dashner appeared on my To-Be-Read list solely because I knew there was a movie coming out for it—and gosh darn it, for once, I was going to read a book before the movie came out… not one week after. Determined to see what all the fuss was about, I dug in, and couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised.

For being a relatively new Young Adult book (Published within the last decade), The Maze Runner has a remarkably nostalgic feel to the way it’s written. It took me back to the early 90’s when Young Adult books were full of adventure and intelligent teens—not sex-crazed airheads. The characters within this novel were well written, and though the author didn’t delve too deeply into their characterization, I felt that perhaps the lack of complexity to the characters somewhat help bolster the impact of the most important character of all… the maze itself.

The world building in this book was flawless. Between the way the characters spoke, reacted to their environment, and the hints of a much greater backdrop, I was immediately sucked into the insular world of Thomas and the Gladers. Thomas was an intelligent character with the tendency to sit back and soak in his world before making too many judgments, and it was easy to see why he became the sort of pseudo-leader he did to these boys. He wasn’t the type of boy to demand a leadership role, but fell into it naturally. He was happy to sit back and let the other strong characters lead, but when needed, he didn’t back away from stepping up. You could tell that he was always thinking, analyzing the puzzles around him, and though he sometimes let his emotions get the best of him, he was a strong character with an innate sense of right and wrong.

This was by no means a complex edge-of-your-seat type of book, but I think that the messages this book presents to young teens are more important than the action and brutality of what is happening to the kids in the maze. There are ever-present themes of friendship, loyalty, courage, selflessness—helping those in need even if it is easier not to, and a strength of character that tells teens to never give up. Never give in to the fear of what may happen—push on instead. Do what is right despite the nay-sayers.

The narrative itself was a bit slow-paced. Thomas was a bit of an observer. He liked to puzzle out what was happening before jumping in, and this came across in the way the book was paced. The first chapter was exceedingly slow, and if you don’t enjoy slow-paced books, it could throw you off. I implore the readers out there to stick with it. The Maze Runner was such a gem. I would happily read this story again (actually, I am—to my 10 year old), and I’m glad I picked it up in the first place. I’d certainly recommend it to any Young Adult Fiction fans out there. It’d make a great discussion piece for students. I can’t wait to dive into the next book in the series!

Book Review: Waterfall

review-cover-waterfallTitle: Waterfall [River of Time 1]

Author: Lisa T. Bergren

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Time Travel, Historical, Fantasy, Romance

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

Most American teenagers want a vacation in Italy, but the Betarrini sisters have spent every summer of their lives among the romantic hills with their archaeologist parents. Stuck among the rubble of the medieval castles in rural Tuscany, on yet another hot, dusty archaeological site, Gabi and Lia are bored out of their minds…until Gabi places her hand atop a handprint in an ancient tomb and finds herself in fourteenth-century Italy. And worse yet, in the middle of a fierce battle between knights of two opposing forces.

Suddenly Gabi’s summer in Italy is much, much more interesting.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting into when I picked up Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergren. I knew it was a YA, Time Travel book, and I’d read a few 1-3 star reviews (as is my habit. I want to know the bad points of a novel before I get into it)… but my hopes for the book weren’t particularly high.

Let me preface this review by saying: The cover has nothing to do with the book, and neither does the title. There are no waterfalls in this book, and no glowing doorways. Zip. Nada—and honestly… who cares? This book was fan-freaking-tastic. Waterfall is the story of two girls, sisters, who inadvertently time travel back seven hundred plus years into the Dark Ages. Separated and unsure of how to get home, Gabriella (the older of the two sisters) attempts to blend in with the new world around her, and finds herself caught between two factions of the war-torn countryside. War, Politics, arranged marriages… Gabi can’t seem to avoid any of it, and all she really wants is to find her sister, Lia, and return to their own time. She doesn’t know that she’s about to fall head-over-heals for the dashing (and already taken), Marcello.

There were a few aspects of this story that weren’t ideal. It was a little convenient that Gabi spoke both Latin, French, and ancient Italian, and was handy with a sword. Also, despite no evidence to support her claims, she had little trouble claiming to be a Lady of Normandy. I couldn’t help but feel that things sometimes fell into place a little too easily for the teen, but considering this book was written for the YA crowd, I’m hesitant to dock it points. Whatever negative aspects there were to the story, they were eclipsed by the positive.

This story was filled with daring sword battles, nefarious trickery, political drama, heart-stopping romance, and hilarious teen hijinks set against the gorgeous backdrop of ancient Italy. The world building was wonderfully done, and the characters were full of personality and depth. The little asides of modern-day slang and sensibilities made Gabi a witty and unforgettable character. I found myself sucked into the story from the very beginning, and even laughed aloud on several occasions. When the last page was turned, I literally clutched my hand to my chest and stared at my kindle, horrified. I didn’t want it to end.

I can’t wait to read the rest of the series, and I’m appalled to discover that there’s two books in the 5-book series that I don’t own yet. That will be remedied immediately. I would gladly recommend this to anyone who enjoys YA fiction, and I will certainly be continuing on with the series.