A Wrinkle in Time

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Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is another childhood classic I just revisited. I don’t remember how old I was when I read it the first time – maybe 7 or 8? Pretty little. All I remembered was a scene where Mrs. Whatsit sprains her dignity, something about a hypnotic brain, and a baby brother named Charles Wallace.

A Wrinkle in Time turned out to be much more sci-fi than I expected. It introduces Meg, a pretty typical, plain-looking tweenage girl trying to fit in at school and failing miserably because she has bad grades and her father’s gone and run off and told the family nothing. (Her principal’s a real jerk about it, too.)

As the book progresses, however, you start to realize that her brother, Charles Wallace, is way above average for his age, her mother and father were working on some pretty important science experiments before her father disappeared, and their neighbors are far from normal. Meg and her brother – along with a friend named Calvin – are suddenly transported to another planet with Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit, who tell them their father is being held prisoner on an evil planet called Camazotz.

The entire book is a little more sci-fi than I would prefer, and very anti-Communist, but it has a wonderfully strong female lead, and it tells the story quite nicely. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys science fiction, and certainly to anyone between the ages of 8 and 14. ♦

At The Mountains of Madness and Other Weird Tales

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As far as I’m aware, H.P. Lovecraft singlehandedly created the “weird horror” genre. His writing depicts things so advanced that we can never hope to understand them, monsters that terrify us not because they’ll kill us, but because they’re so far above us on the food chain that they don’t even seem to care about us. While most horror authors scare us with things that hunt us down, Lovecraft scares us with things that exist that shouldn’t.

At The Mountains of Madness is the second collection of his that I’ve read, a series of short stories. I didn’t like this one as much as some other stories, mostly because this collection featured some of his longest stories – several were about a hundred pages long. That’s a short novel to me.

Aside from the ridiculous length, I did find a new favorite story: The Thing on the Doorstep. In true Lovecraft fashion, it was a very predictable horror story that I thought I understood until the last few paragraphs. He doesn’t take you on twists and turns all along the way; he saves it all up for one last punch at the end.

I would not recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for an easy read. It’s not. But if you’re looking to find out where our modern horror came from, or if you’re looking for some sophisticated, science-fiction-y goosebumps, go for it. It’s a classic. ♦

The Death Cure

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Okay, remember how critical I was of The Scorch Trials? Well, James Dashner redeems himself with the third book in the series, The Death Cure. His final book wraps up loose ends, and unlike The Scorch Trials, I feel like everything that happens actually drives the plot toward that wrap-up.

In The Death Cure, Thomas and friends discover that WICKED hasn’t quite found a cure yet. They also find out that not all of them were immune to the Flare after all – which gives them an added reason to find a cure. Most of them get their memories back. But all of them realize they’ve been brainwashed, that WICKED is going to stop at nothing to find a cure, and that the organization is now kidnapping more “Munies” (people who are immune) to return to the old experiments. The new question is: cooperate with an inhumane agency to find a cure, or fight the agency and allow a disease to ravage mankind?

I really like the personal battle that goes on in this. Thomas is faced with a lot of moral issues, and no matter what he does, people will die. The book shows some of the same dilemmas of war or self-defense, but uses disease to create the moral dilemma. While Thomas can see people going crazy and dying around him, he also can’t condone torturing people in the vain hope of finding a way to make it stop.

One thing I did not like about the book is that it is graphically – I would say unnecessarily – violent. I would recommend The Maze Runner to a mature twelve- or thirteen-year-old. I wouldn’t recommend The Death Cure until a kid is about fifteen or sixteen, however. (I wouldn’t recommend The Scorch Trials at all, but that’s a different book review.) There’s blood and guts everywhere. People get shot in the head. If (when) this is made into a movie, I think they’re going to have to do some careful camera shots to keep it PG-13. And I think Dashner’s writing does keep it PG-13: he doesn’t tell you about brains flying all over the place, or anything, but the violence is nonstop and very intense.

The Death Cure is still not as clean, self-contained, or as thrilling as The Maze Runner. But what the book does is wrap up the series very well while continuing to take you on twists and turns. It does a great job, and actually leaves you pretty satisfied with an ending that can’t be totally happy. ♦

If you want more spoilers, and a more complete review of the book, check out:

THINKING OUT LOUD | THE DEATH CURE – JAMES DASHNER

The Scorch Trials

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The Scorch Trials is James Dashner’s sequel to The Maze Runner – the middle book in a trilogy. And I absolutely loved The Maze Runner, so this may come as a bit of a surprise: I thought The Scorch Trials was completely pointless.

It’s not that it was poorly written. In fact, it was extremely well written. I found myself taking time out of anything else I was doing to get just one more chapter in. I read the whole book in two or three days, tops. The action moved it along quite nicely. But when it really came down to it, I didn’t see the point of the book. It can’t stand alone – you have to have read the first book – and you can’t stop without reading the third book, either. It’s the glue of the series.

Which I wouldn’t mind, if it were useful glue. When Tolkien released the Lord of the Rings series, The Two Towers served as the glue in the middle. And it was important glue. There were battles and characters and serious plot elements that had to be dealt with. It was the meat in the literary sandwich. The Scorch Trials is the mayonnaise in Dashner’s literary sandwich. It doesn’t really add substance. It doesn’t really add flavor. It just kind of sticks the two pieces of bread together.

I don’t feel like I’m being hard on him here. The Maze Runner is great, even as a stand-alone thriller. The Death Cure is great (though you’d have to have read The Maze Runner for it to make sense). But if you skipped straight from book one to book three, the entire trilogy would still make perfect sense. I feel like Dashner’s publisher said, “You know, trilogies sell really well right now,” so Dashner said, “That’s alright – I had all these ideas for horrible things the establishment could do to these kids anyway,” and plugged in all his extra ideas into a second book. But he could have easily skipped the “task” required of the kids in the second book, tacked on an extra ten or twenty pages to the third book, and ended up with a shorter, more coherent story line.

Here’s what you’ll need to know if you decide to take my advice and skip The Scorch Trials:

  1. These kids are super important. Also, they’re immune to The Flare.
  2. WICKED promised them a cure.
  3. Thomas needed to feel betrayed for the research patterns WICKED needed, so they convinced Teresa to pretend to give him up as a human sacrifice. Tensions between Thomas and Teresa are tense. (Terribly tense.)
  4. The Gladers met some folks named Jorge and Brenda. They’re “good guys.”
  5. WICKED is cruel and unusual, and Thomas and Teresa probably only helped them in the first place because they grew up brainwashed. Also, Thomas had a mother who loved him.

Yup. That’s about all you need to know. And at least a hundred pages could have been cut out if item 3 had been cut out of the story line (which it easily could have). So as long as you already think WICKED is doing bad things to kids, and you’re willing to accept the names Jorge and Brenda, you’ve already got the information you need. Proceed straight ahead to The Death Cure. ♦

If you want more spoilers, and a more complete book review:

WEDNESDAY REVIEW | THE SCORCH TRIALS [THE MAZE RUNNER #2]

Son

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So, just a warning. This book is a heart-wrenching trip through new-mother hormones. And by that, I mean the whole thing is about a mother who will do anything for her son, even though she hasn’t seen him since he was a baby. If you have a baby, don’t read this while you’re nursing said baby. It will make you cry. Just saying.

Of course, it might also make you appreciate said baby a little more, even when he kind of bites you. So, that’s good.

Anyways. As far as the book goes, it’s a page-turner, but I’m not sure how much I’d recommend it. The writing is great – like, the prose really gets you interested and keeps you interested. But I think I have the same problem with Son that I had with Messenger: it feels like Lois Lowry really, really wanted to find a way to get all of her characters into the same story, and she broke her own rules to do it.

In The Giver, Jonas and Gabe escape from a futuristic, sterile dystopia. In Gathering Blue, Kira and Matt discover an alternative to their primitive, organic dystopia. In Messenger, Matt brings Kira to the village Jonas and Gabe founded with the help of a great deal of magic that wasn’t really explained. And in Son, Gabriel’s birthmother escapes her futuristic, sterile dystopia, travels through a completely unrelated seaside village, and ends up in Jonas and Kira’s new village after trading her youth away to the devil, who made a cameo appearance as a normal guy in Messenger, and Gabe has to go challenge the forces of evil to a duel to save his dying mom.

Did you follow all that?

I actually feel like all of this would have worked really well if Lowry had left out only one book. If she’d connected the last three and left out The Giver, she could have used a mother whose child was stolen and explored the same themes without hurdling through so many different genres. But I think I just have a really hard time mixing the last three novels – which seem to fall under the fantasy genre to me – with the harsh, sterile science-fiction of The Giver. I have a really hard time reading about artificial insemenation in the same book where I’m expected to believe that Evil himself is a tall guy who wanders the forest at night and steals whatever souls people are willing to trade to him.

All in all, I don’t feel like I wasted my time reading the book. But I just feel like Lowry was trying too hard to tie things together, and it left me feeling more frustrated at the end than relieved. It felt like she’d broken so many of her own rules that I wanted an impossibly happy ending, because if she was willing to break a few rules, she might as well break them all. I’ll give the book three stars, and say it was well-worded, but the series was poorly constructed. ♦

The Maze Runner

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Alright – I’m well behind Ethan in number-of-books-read, but at least I’m still reading. Over the past few days, I started and finished one of the fastest-paced books in the English language. It’s called The Maze Runner, written by James Dashner, and I’d place it somewhere between teen sci-fi and suspense. Ethan and I bought it after we saw the preview for the movie coming out soon. (Effective preview, that.)

For those of you who read my last book review, I can simplify this by simply stating that The Maze Runner is the exact opposite of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Exact opposite. Going from one book to another was a bit of a shock to my system. It was like watching the 6-hour version of Pride and Prejudice, and then following it up immediately afterward with The Terminator. The book is so action-packed, I don’t think I put it down for two days, except to eat, sleep, and catch my breath.

The book is about a group of teenagers who find themselves in a compound with no memory of who they were before. The compound is surrounded by high stone walls that form a maze, and the kids have to find their way out of the maze. Trouble is, they have to get back by sunset every evening, or the evil cyborg Grievers will kill them. But then one night, the walls to the maze don’t close, and the Grievers get into the compound.

I’m not throwing out any more spoilers than that. Be warned: if you pick up this book, be prepared to not put it down. Also, be warned that there’s a fair amount of violence, although the author doesn’t dwell on blood and guts and gore. There is little foul language, however, as the author developed his own slang for the teens to cuss in. So that’s a plus. Also, if you’re looking for a good, clean, resolution with a happy ending, this isn’t your book. I’m not sure whether I feel cheated or delighted that I now feel a solid need to go out and find a copy of the next two books in the series.

In short, this is a book my dad would love, my mom would hate, and I really hope they carry at the local library. Or at least, the sequels. If you like action movies, go pick up this book. ♦

The Giver

Remember how I was going to read a gajillion books this year?

Yeah, so I finally started reading again after about 2 or 3 months’ absence. I guess I just read myself out. But my mom took me and Ethan out to see The Giver in theaters, and I was impressed. So, naturally, I had to read the book again to see how the movie compared.

Surprisingly, I would recommend the movie just as strongly as the book on this one. Much of the dialogue is taken straight from the book, and the only differences between the two were, I feel, very fitting to adapt the book into a visual, feature-length format.

The Giver is a dystopian novel about a “perfect” society that has erased all differences, and all memories of the past. Jonas, the main character, is selected to become the “Receiver of Memories,” the only member of the society that remembers what life was like before the Community, and therefore, an important adviser to the Elders. But Jonas starts to realize the Community has done too much to make everything the same, and wonders if he can force a change back.

The book is fantastic. The movie is also fantastic, in different ways. I highly recommend both, in any order you like. ♥