Audio Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner
By James Dashner
Published by Random House Audio
Source: Library

From Goodreads:

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. His memory is blank. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade—a large, open expanse surrounded by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night they’ve closed tight. And every 30 days a new boy has been delivered in the lift.

Thomas was expected. But the next day, a girl is sent up—the first girl to ever arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers.

Thomas might be more important than he could ever guess. If only he could unlock the dark secrets buried within his mind.

Hm. It’s taken me a while to figure out how to review this one because to be honest, I’m not really sure how I feel about the book itself.

In terms of the audio, the narrator doesn’t sound anything like a teenager. This may bother some people, since Thomas is supposed to be a teen. It doesn’t really bother me because since I’m not a teenager myself I rarely read YA books in the voice of an age-appropriate character. They always sound older to me in my head. And honestly, the narrator was good enough to make up for being of the wrong age group. He was a really smooth reader, to the point that his voice almost lulled me to sleep a few times (though to be fair, that may be because I was listening at work). He was good at doing distinct character voices as well without  making them sound overly cartoony, and he did a good job with accents. Overall I really enjoyed his narration.

As far as the book itself, I was less impressed. It made me sad, too, because this book was on my to-read list for ages and I was really looking forward to it. It’s not that I didn’t like it, exactly…more that I was just kind of underwhelmed and I had a lot of issues with it. First and foremost, it is absolutely chock full of fake swear words. I mean REALLY full of fake swear words. Tons of them. Overkill. It started to bug after a while. Or not even after a while, almost immediately. Maybe this was just a personal pet peeve but I really don’t see how it could be. Profanity doesn’t bother me, but fake profanity does.

Also, the book takes a really long time to get going. It starts rather slowly and proceeds rather slowly, and I didn’t really feel like it picked up much at all until about halfway through the book (or halfway through the audiobook, in this case). The book kind of spins its wheels in some places, like the continuous refusal to give Thomas any answers of any kind. He asks, they refuse, he asks, they refuse, ad nauseum. Which was fine, whatever, but it was also a refusal to give the reader any answers and it began to get annoying after a while. Especially since it was pointed out so many times that no answers were being given. It just exacerbated the annoyance factor.

I also found it a bit repetitive in some aspects. There was quite a bit of accusing Thomas of “knowing something” that kind of went on and on. I just had kind of a hard time concentrating. For whatever reason, this book just wasn’t clicking with me. I would find my mind wandering and then I’d have to rewind to catch what I missed the first time.

I do think this would be a great series for teenage boys, particularly those who are reluctant readers. It’s definitely got a boy vibe going on. There is a girl character but for most of the book she’s absentee. And that was fine, because there doesn’t need to be a female character in every book. Honest.

I feel like I’m being really negative here. I didn’t really dislike the book, despite the fact that most of this review is complaining about it. I think I just had high expectations and it fell short of them. I wanted to love it and I didn’t, and now I’m disappointed. I liked it enough that I’ll read or listen to the sequels, but they won’t be a priority.

3/5 Stars

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Less QQ More Pew-Pew! Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Audio)

Ready Player One
By Ernest Cline
Published by Random House Audio
Narrated by Wil Wheaton
Source: Library

From Goodreads:

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

At once wildly original and stuffed with irresistible nostalgia, Ready Player One is a spectacularly genre-busting, ambitious, and charming debut—part quest novel, part love story, and part virtual space opera set in a universe where spell-slinging mages battle giant Japanese robots, entire planets are inspired by Blade Runner, and flying DeLoreans achieve light speed.

Before I even begin, I will confess that I am a former gamer and thus may have taken a little more from this book than someone who isn’t. But seriously, it’s not a prerequisite or anything.

Wow. Wow, wow, wow. This book has been on my radar for some time and after seeing several great reviews for the audiobook I decided to give the audio a shot. Thank you, Ernest Cline, for brightening up my work days for a solid week.

First, let’s talk narrator. When I have listened to audiobooks in the past the narrator has mostly been an afterthought for me. I know, I know, that sounds strange. It should be the foremost thing that I notice, right? Probably, but unless they are really bad or their voice bugs or something I just kind of tune it out and focus on the story. Not so in this case. I honestly don’t think that a better narrator could have been chosen for this book. Wil Wheaton was just amazing, amazing casting. If you’re familiar with him at all you probably know that he’s a bit of a cult icon amongst internet dwellers (hopefully you follow Wheaton’s Law…don’t be a dick) and has a pretty broad following from his sci-fi work as well. I’m not so into sci-fi but I can’t recommend The Guild enough, especially if you are a gamer of any sort. Anyway, he’s great. Very entertaining and he does great accents – including Canadian, which I think would have been overlooked by a lot of narrators. So bravo on that one.  And there is one part that ends up being hilariously meta and made me laugh out loud. I think I have developed a bit of a nerd crush.

Moving on.

Depending on your age or how immersed in pop culture you are, Ready Player One has a crazy amazing number of pop culture mentions. They are too plentiful to  list, but among my favorites were Ghostbusters, John Hughes movies, Dead Man’s Party by Oingo Boingo, Better Off Dead…and oh. muh. gawd. There’s a Planet Goondocks with a Goonies quest inside the Oasis. Goonies Never say die!

Ahem.

Wade is an awesome main character. He’s a huge nerd and not all that attractive – so in other words, he flies in the face of the typical YA male main character. He’s also dirt poor and both of his parents are dead, so you can’t help but really feel sorry for him. I was rooting for him SO HARD as he tried to solve Halliday’s game and collect the fortune/take over the company! And the secondary characters are pretty great also, especially Wade’s best friend H. He’s totally cool and engaging, and he and Wade have a genuine friendship even though it exists completely in cyberspace. I was less crazy about Artemis, though she did eventually grow on me as the book went on. And villains. WHOA. This book has a villian that is off the charts bad and it’s an entire freaking CORPORATION. I mean don’t get me wrong, there is a huge dick working for the corporation, but the company itself is Wade’s nemesis as they are huge cheaters and do not follow Wheaton’s Law at all. I loved this. They were so easy to hate and I felt scandalized any time they did something dickish or evil.

So am I just going to sit here and rave about how amazing this book is? Mostly, yes. I did have a few minor problems with it – namely I didn’t understand why, when Halliday went to so much trouble to create the game, he totally ignored how easy it would be to cheat. And I did find myself zoning out a bit a few times when Wheaton would be reading a long bit about technical specs or the scoreboard. These really were minor nitpicky things, though.

I can’t recommend this book enough and I highly suggest that you seek out the audio version if you have the opportunity to do so. It really adds to the experience in this case.

4.5/5 Stars

Audio Review: Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Beautiful Creatures
By Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl
563 Pages
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

From Goodreads:

There were no surprises in Gatlin County.
We were pretty much the epicenter of the middle of nowhere.
At least, that’s what I thought.
Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
There was a curse.
There was a girl.
And in the end, there was a grave.
Lena Duchannes is unlike anyone the small Southern town of Gatlin has ever seen, and she’s struggling to conceal her power and a curse that has haunted her family for generations. But even within the overgrown gardens, murky swamps and crumbling graveyards of the forgotten South, a secret cannot stay hidden forever.

Ethan Wate, who has been counting the months until he can escape from Gatlin, is haunted by dreams of a beautiful girl he has never met. When Lena moves into the town’s oldest and most infamous plantation, Ethan is inexplicably drawn to her and determined to uncover the connection between them.

In a town with no surprises, one secret could change everything.

**Review is of the audio version of Beautiful Creatures**

The first thing I noticed about Beautiful Creatures was that the town it takes place in is called Gatlin, which immediately made me think of the book/movie Children of the Corn. I’m sure it was a total coincidence but it just put me in a creepy frame of mind right from the get-go. Plus, as I have said before, small towns = automatic creep factor.

Outlander! We have your woman!

The authors did a really good job of giving the book a Gothic old south feel. Or at least what I imagine the Gothic old south would feel like, having spent the vast majority of my life firmly north of the Mason-Dixon line. If there is actually a Gatlin, SC the residents might want to consider suing the authors, though, because they make them all sound like a bunch of absolutely terrible, vindictive, small-minded people. There is also a healthy sprinkling of tremendously overzealous mean girls and a mom who makes Carrie White’s mother (two Stephen King references in two paragraphs, yahtzee!) look open-minded by comparison.

The guy who narrates the book is really good. He doesn’t sound like a teenager by any means but that doesn’t really bother me. I’m not a teenager, so that probably contributes to why it doesn’t bother me. It didn’t do much to change my tendency to picture characters in YA books as older than they are, but whatever. I also thought it was interesting that they put in some theatrical touches as opposed to just reading the book straight. There are sound effects, music, etc. They really made Ethan’s dreams  – which are a big part of the story – stand out and easy to separate from his reality. I do have to confess that I wasn’t a fan of the music that they used. In fact, I really disliked it, and it got stuck in my head on a continuous loop which made me dislike it even more. And now it’s stuck in my head while I’m writing the review. Balls.

I have to say that I really enjoyed it that for most of the book Ethan refers to Lena as “the girl I like” rather than “the girl I love” and by the time it crossed over into love they had been together for six months or so. I truly don’t mean to sound condescending here, but when YA books constantly have 15 year old characters raving about how “in love” they are with other 15 year old characters who they barely know, I give my eyes a big old roll. And I give my eyes the same roll when characters twice that old do it.  So I definitely liked how the romance was done in this book – the characters start off not liking or trusting one another and build slowly up to more. Hooray!

I found myself surprisingly sad when I got to the end of the book. I had gotten more attached to the characters than I realized, I guess. That said, I found the ending to be a little…I don’t know what word to use here. A bit of a cop-out, maybe. Or a convenient way to make for a sequel. Not that I didn’t like it, necessarily, it was just a little “well, everything is resolved but hey wait, nothing is really resolved so let’s do it all over again.” It seems like it might make for a repetitive second book but it would be unfair of me to say that definitively since I haven’t read it yet, so I’ll just stay in wait and see mode. The ending did knock my rating down just slightly, but I still definitely liked it a lot.

4/5 Stars

Review: Dust & Decay by Jonathan Maberry (audio)

Dust & Decay (Benny Imura #2)
By Jonathan Maberry
519 Pages
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 30, 2011

From Goodreads:

In post-apocalyptic America, 15-year-old Benny Imura and his friends set out into the great Rot & Ruin hoping to find a better future but are soon pitted against zombies, wild animals, insane murderers, and the horrors of Gameland.

**Review is of Dust & Decay audiobook listened to on a Playaway audio device**

There are spoilers for Rot & Ruin below, so read at your own risk if you haven’t read the first book in the series.

Dust & Decay picks up pretty much where Rot & Ruin left off. The group is planning to set off and locate the source of the jet they saw in the sky, a sign to them that there is still humanity out there somewhere instead of the small community surrounded by wasteland where they live. Benny has grown as a result of his experiences in the last book, but in a lot of ways he’s still a kid with an optimistic outlook. Nix is very different – her experiences in Rot & Ruin have affected her deeply and she’s nowhere near the carefree girl she used to be. She’s aged a great deal in terms of maturity and has become rather jaded about the world. And Lilah grows a great deal as she adjusts to living with people again, which was cool to see. Morgie has lost his damn mind and he plays a pretty small role in this book, but Chong plays a significantly larger one than he did in R&R. AND you get to meet more of Tom’s fellow bounty hunters, which was really cool. Some of them are very interesting characters.

I was glad to see that Benny & Tom’s relationship had changed significantly for the better. After resolving their issues from the first book (which ended on a fairly gut wrenching note, by the way) they are now working together instead of in opposition to one another, and that adds a nice dynamic to the story. The hate that Benny felt for Tom has been replaced by respect as he realized what really happened on First Night and what Tom’s actions were really all about.

The villain(s) in this book are just INSANE. Like, way worse than Charlie Pink Eye. You’d think that would be difficult, and it is, which gives you some idea about how bad it truly was. You never really know who to trust in this book and there are some major twists, a few you may see coming and at least one that I can say with absolute certainty that I did not.

The narrator is the same as in the first book and the continuity was nice. He does a good job reading the story, and although he doesn’t do different voices for the characters the way a lot of narrators do I was fine with that. Sometimes giving different voices to that many characters can begin to sound cartoonish. He reads it pretty straightforward.

There are a couple of suuuper nice references to the original Night of the Living Dead movies – especially by having news of the first outbreak start near Pittsburgh (and by the way, if you’re into zombies it’s pretty awesome living in the zombie capital of the world). And mentioning running zombies in Milwaukee, where the Dawn of the Dead remake takes place? Awesome. I know that can’t be unintentional. I’m sure there were other references that I just missed as well. I love these cool little additions to the overall book.

Maberry is pretty ruthless with his characters, which I mostly appreciate, but the end is just a total sucker punch. I was actually like NOOOOOO!, which was a problem since I was listening at work. It was the hardest part to listen to, yet it totally made the book as good as it was. Looking forward to the next installment in the series.

4.5/5 Stars

Review: The Giver by Lois Lowry (audio)

The Giver
By Lois Lowry
4 hours 48 Minutes
Random House, Inc.

Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

**Review refers to the audiobook version of The Giver**

I can’t believe that I’ve never read this book before. Ever. It seems like one of those books that errrrybody on the planet read when they were a kid. I don’t know how I missed it, to be honest.

So The Giver is an old-school dystopian. It takes place in a super cold and unfeeling society where every aspect of life it carefully planned, plotted, and regulated. There is a rule for everything. EVERYTHING. There is a rule about hair ribbons for girls under the age of 9 being neatly tied, ffs. Children receive bicycles at 9. They’re not allowed to ride them before then, but apparently this is a rule that everyone breaks. LOOK OUT, CRIMINALS.

People are “given” spouses. Even the number of children in a family – two children, one male and one female – is ruled by the government. And the children are not born into a family the normal way. Prospective parents apply for permission to get a child (which sometimes sounds like a not so bad idea, to be honest) and they have a child assigned to them. Oh, and the elderly or children who are not up to par are “released”, which is really just a nice way of saying done away with.

Basically it just sounded like a tremendously terrible place in spite of all of the rules that are supposed to make life easy/great. Feelings are discussed and dissected on a Stepford-crazy level. Everything is just so stiff. When kids are unhappy or scared, they are allowed to take a designated “comfort object” to bed. Really? Comfort object? Your job is assigned to you by elders of the community, so basically you have no free will. There aren’t even any colors. Somebody call the fun police. It took me until the very end of the book to connect with any of the characters, they were all just so bland and obedient. Finally Jonas did something outside of the norm and I could have hugged him had he been real and not fictional.

I’d have lasted, like, ten minutes in this society before being released. These people were plain crazy and personality-free and I can’t even imagine how boring that kind of life would be. Somebody calls the waahmbulance every time someone has the smallest inconvenience, frustration, or fear. And everyone is so creepily obedient. Not my style.

As far as the audiobook, I thought that the narrator was pretty good. Not a ton of emotion, which fit in really well with the book itself. There were kind of weird bouts of music throughout. I couldn’t figure out if these were supposed to signify the ends of the chapters. I assume they were, but since there were no introductions to the chapters who really knows? It was a nice short book that was perfect to get through in a single work day.

I feel like I should have read this book as a kid. As an adult I just found it to be honestly kind of irritating, and I know that I’m slamming a classic but I can’t help it. I guess the further I get into adulthood the harder it is for me to believe that people would ever behave this way, giving up their liberties like this. Ultimately The Giver just didn’t grab me, although I give it a lot of credit for quote probably inspiring a lot of the dystopian genre that followed and is currently exploding all over our faces. I certainly think it’s a worthwhile read for anybody who enjoys the genre.

3.25/5 Stars