Melissa’s #CBR5 review #3: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Maze Runner“Just follow me and run like your life depends on it. Because it does.”

Thomas doesn’t know who he is.  Thomas doesn’t know where he is.  All he knows is his name, and that the life he used to know is gone.

I’m back in the Young Adult trough, and have a good one for you today.  Dystopian future novels seem to be all anyone wants to write about lately, and this is yet another one.  However, this one was much better than Gamers, the last book I read.

So Thomas is literally pulled into this new life in a dark cube, and the world is…small.  A giant stone wall surrounds the entire compound, though there are doors that open to an ever-changing maze.  Forty or so boys make the compound their home, but Lord of the Flies this ain’t.  It is run with military precision by a boy named Alby, with his second in command Newt.

The boys in charge use the new guy to exposit a bit about how things work in ‘The Glade:’ Every week, supplies and things come up in the elevator, and once a month, a newbie comes with it.  Each day, there is a group of boys that go out to the maze, mapping it out since it changes every day.  They stay in the walls, which close at night, due to ‘the grievers,’ a monstrosity that causes any boy it stings to go crazy unless they get a syrum that comes with the weekly supplies.  The rest of the boys are assigned different jobs around the glade, from cleaning to animal care, from farming to security.

Thomas takes this all in, and somehow manages not to freak out.  He does decide he wants to be a runner, one of the maze mappers, but is shot down almost right away as being too new.  Of course, things change pretty massively almost right away, starting with the next supply run, which includes something the boys haven’t seen in quite a long while: a girl.  Thomas and the girl have an almost immediate connection, despite the fact that the girl is slightly comatose.

Anyway, Thomas decides the group needs to escape the glade, and starts in earnest trying to solve the puzzle and save his new friends.

This was a pretty good dystopian future book.  Thomas was mostly likeable, even if he did get a bit whiney in his lack of memory.  He wasn’t immediately liked by all the boys, or liked at all in the case of a couple of them, and it felt real.

The secondary characters were mostly strong as well, with the cook named Frypan sticking out in my mind.  Thomas’ antagonist among the boys was relatively menacing, though a bit superfluous with the oozing robot monsters.

The story was strong as well, with a good consistency throughout, and a reveal that didn’t completely destroy the continuity of it.  The worldbuilding was great as well, you really feel as though you are in the glade.

This book did struggle a bit in pacing.  The first day seemed to last at least a year, while the escape was over and done practically before it started.  The romance between Thomas and the girl, Theresa, seemed really shoehorned in as well, like the author was going for a slight Twilight feel, but failed miserably.

All in all, I would recommend this book if you like dystopian sci-fi, or a good escape story.

I give it 4 out of 5 greenbeans.

“I just…feel like I need to save everyone. To redeem myself.”

Cross-posted to Melissa’s Miscellany

Melissa’s #CBR5 review #02: Gamers by Thomas K Carpenter

Gamers“The first rule [of the game] is what can be gamed can be improved.  The second rule is that everything can be a game and the last rule is to never look backwards because the past is a game that’s already been decided.”

For people that know me in real life, they know two things about me: I am a gamer, and I am very cheap.  Both of these came into play when I found this book.  First, it was on the Kindle Free store.  That is my favorite place, and just about every book on my e-reader comes from there, including this one.  The title caught my eye for obvious reason, and the blurb seemed very interesting:  life is a game, for realsies.  No points for pedestrians, but points for just about everything else a person may do.  Intrigued, I started the download, and jumped right into this book.

So, plot synopsis:  Gabby is a high schooler, almost ready to graduate and head to Blizzard University(no, I’m not making that up).  She is a top student, one who rakes in the points, but her best friend Zaela is too much of a dreamer, too much of a ‘smell the roses’ type to really do well in a school where everything is virtual and doesn’t actually smell.  Gabby spends most of her time either racking in her points, or gaming the system to help Zaela stay above the infamous line, the one that determines who moves on to University and who goes on to lower jobs.

Of course, things are not all as they seem, and a mysterious group that call themselves the Frags contact Gabby, and let her see a whole new side of the world she knows, and there are nefarious plots afoot and blah blah blah, standard futuristic plot ‘twist.’

Let’s start with what I did like about the book.  The concept is great.  My husband and I often joke about if MMO’s were real life, and how many points we’d have.  This book actually reminded me of another book I read last year, The Unidentified, in that respect, though the stakes seemed slightly higher int his book.  The Frags were well written, and their motivations in the world as it was created made sense and fit with the story well.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of things I didn’t like about this book.  The author clearly had a cursory grasp of gamer culture, however, the implementation of that knowledge was laughably inept.  Carpenter throws in terms like DOTs and raids, Mario and Bowser, but it seems like he was like, ‘Oh, I can shoehorn in a term here to satiate the nerds and then I can get back to my story.’

It’s really too bad the story doesn’t live up to the concept.  The plot was surprisingly simple and predictable, and the worldbuilding is pretty fail as well.  All of the exposition didn’t connect, especially in terms of Gabby’s main antagonist at the school, Avony.  She is described as an ‘Evil Doll,’ but then is nothing but nice to Gabby for basically the rest of the book.  It was really distracting, and did not help in making me believe what the author said about the world.

The worst part, however, is that this is a trilogy, which I was not aware of when I started this book.  I have no problem with series, but I went in expecting a finish, and I got a cliff hanger, and that no fun for anyone, especially a cheap anyone who isn’t going drop a cool fourteen bucks to get the next two books in the series.

I would only recommend this book if you REALLY enjoy dystopian future books with shoehorned in gamer references.  The concept is great, but the execution is not strong, and the characters are one dimensional at best.

I give it 2 of 5 final raids

Crossblogged at my personal blog!

Melissa’s #CBR5 Review #01: Is Everyone Hanging Out With Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling“I’m only marginally qualified to be giving advice at all. My body mass index is certainly not ideal, I frequently use my debit card to buy things that cost less than three dollars because I never have cash on me, and my bedroom is so untidy it looks like vandals ransacked the Anthropologie Sale section. I’m kind of a mess.”

My sister is pregnant, and in an effort to make room for the baby, she gave me a bunch of books, one of which was “Are you there vodka? It’s me, Chelsea.”  I got three chapters in before I got the distinct urge to drop it in a lake.  It was not funny, I don’t think I laughed once in three chapters I read.  I hated the premise of her stories, I hated her voice, and I’m pretty sure I actually hated her.

It was in this mindset that I started reading Mindy Kaling’s memoir, not expecting too terribly much from Kelly Kapoor.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by this book.  The vignettes Kaling employ aren’t wild, out-of-this-world stories that would never happen to a sane person *cough*ChelseaHandler*cough*, but real, honest-to-goodness stories of growing up a nerd and subsequent tales of trying hard to make it in an unforgiving business.

And that’s not to say these stories weren’t funny, because oh my goodness.  I got this book for Christmas, and literally finished it in five hours.  A massive headache and severe lack of sleep couldn’t even stop me from finishing this book in one sitting.  Kaling’s self-deprecating humor never failed to amuse me, and was in stark contrast to the self-important humor that Chelsea Handler employed.

I also really enjoyed the behind the scenes look at her time at The Office, and the obvious camaraderie she had with her fellow castmates and crew was fun to look in on.  I didn’t really know how she came to be on The Office, and the persistence she showed verged on inspirational, or as inspirational as a comedy book can be.  The story of how her stage play “Matt & Ben” came to be, which lead to her current situation, was fantastic and hilarious, a great cap on a funny funny book.

The message of this book, for as much as there is one, is great: hard work and a crazy sense of humor will get you a gig on The Office.  I would vehemently recommend this to anyone who was a nerd, or who is a nerd, or who loves a nerd.  Oh, or people who like to laugh, or like to chuckle, or chortle.  This is an incredibly funny book, and a quick read to boot.

“Teenage girls, please don’t worry about being super popular in high school, or being the best actress in high school, or the best athlete. Not only do people not care about any of that the second you graduate, but when you get older, if you reference your successes in high school too much, it actually makes you look kind of pitiful, like some babbling old Tennessee Williams character with nothing else going on in her current life. What I’ve noticed is that almost no one who was a big star in high school is also big star later in life. For us overlooked kids, it’s so wonderfully fair.”

I give it 5/5 chubby Indian girls

(Cross-posted to my personal blog :) )