Becky’s One Hundred and Ninety-Second Book Review: “The Scorch Trials” by James Dashner

“The Scorch Trials” by James Dashner is the second book in the Maze Runner series. I was hooked from the beginning with the first book so it was with great anticipation that I picked up the second.

SPOILER ALERT: THIS IS THE SECOND BOOK IN THE SERIES; THERE ARE SPOILERS FROM THE FIRST BOOK BELOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

In The Maze Runner series, the world is in catastrophe. At the end of the first book we learn a little background on what happened. There was a natural disaster – sun flares – which wiped out a large part of the population. A horrific disease called the flare followed and tore through the remainder of the population. It causes those affected to go insane and turn into zombie-like creatures called Cranks.

After being rescued from the maze, Thomas and the rest of the group are given safe haven. They stuff themselves with food and go to bed feeling safe for the first time in a long time. They awaken the next morning to find that their rescuers are dead and their world is still one where they have to fight to survive. Then they are given instructions – they need to trek across the desert with minimal supplies in order to get to the cure for the flare, which they all have been infected with. Thomas and the rest of the group has just days to make an impossible journey before they start to go insane and become Cranks.

I think what is interesting about this series is how the characters figure out that they are pawns in someone else’s game, but they do not know to what effect. From what they are able to gather at the end of the first book, the maze had a purpose. It is unclear what the variables are that they are a part of, but it doesn’t stop the group from fighting to survive. “They now knew they were being tested somehow, put through WICKED’s trials. In some ways it felt like they should behave differently because of this, and yet they just kept going, fighting, surviving until they could get the promised cure. And that was what they’d keep doing; Thomas was sure of it.” (The Scorch Trials, pg 107).

The fight to survive is what has kept the group Thomas is with alive as long as they’ve been in the WICKED trials. It’s interesting to see how different characters react to different dangerous situations. Some will fight to help each other get through the threat and others will simply fight to protect themselves. Despite the fact that Thomas always tries to play the hero, he does get to points where his own survival is all he can focus on. “He didn’t care about the others anymore. The chaos around him seemed to siphon away his humanity, turn him into an animal. All he wanted was to survive, make it to that building, get inside. Live. Gain another day.” (The Scorch Trials, pg 136). I thought this was a very interesting part of the book. To see Thomas drop away his compassion, even for only a few seconds, because of his own animalistic instinct to survive.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that it is a highly enjoyable series. It’s a young adult book and so it is easy to get through. “The Scorch Trials” is quite a page-turner and I think it would appeal to a large variation of readers. I’m looking forward to reading the next book.

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Becky’s One Hundred and Ninety-First Book Review: “The Missing” by Sarah Langan

“The Missing” by Sarah Langan is a book that I have been reading aloud with FH over the last few months. We keep it in the car to read on long drives, which is why it has taken so long, but we finally finished it last night. My initial assessment upon completion of this book was what a weird fucking book. FH shares this opinion.

The prologue certainly gathered our attention, we don’t know whom is narrating but they paint an intriguing picture. “Through the cracks in my windows and chimney flue, there is only the howling wind, and underneath that, barely discernible screams.” (The Missing, pg 3). The prologue ends with this: “I have a story for you. Forgive me if it seems I’m telling you things that I could not possibly know. This is a small town, and you hear gossip. Besides, the dead do speak.
So gather round, as I used to tell the children during story hour. Gather round.” (The Missing, pg 5). I thought this was definitely an interesting way to start a story. For the rest of the novel we were trying to decide which character was narrating at the beginning.

“The Missing” begins with a class trip. Lois Larkin takes her kids on a field trip and a troublemaker, James Walker, basically is responsible for beginning an epidemic. He sneaks away from the group into the woods where he goes to die. It is only when Lois is back on the bus heading home that she realizes that James is not on the bus. A search party is put together and Lois wanders away from the others. “Lois, the voice said. It came from two places. It licked her ears and sated the itch like rain on a thirsty flower…
…Something moved inside her, and she jumped back and scrambled a few feet from the hole while sliding on her butt so that the legs of her trousers turned dark with soot. The thing peered out from her eyes. She could feel it. An enemy slithering between her ears. Lois, it whispered. Her heart pounded, and for a moment she was tempted to gouge her eyes in order to pull the thing out.” (The Missing, pg 97). I really liked this quote because I think it is a good representation of just how weird Sarah Langan’s writing can be. She doesn’t lack for imagery.

Part of what makes “The Missing” so interesting is that it is told through a few different characters. This lets the reader see how a wide scope of people react to the dire situation the town finds themselves in. One of the main characters is Fenstad Wintrob, a physiatrist with a troubled marriage, one kid away at college, and a rebellious teenager daughter at home. His character makes a dramatic change as the madness in the town unfolds. Some characters fight to survive and others go a different direction. I enjoyed observing how different individuals react to a crisis.

Would I recommend this book? Not to most people, that’s for sure. It is just so strange. It seemed almost like Sarah Langan was creating the strangest thing she could think of and then going to the next level with it to the realm of beyond ridiculous. It certainly kept things interesting. I’m glad that this wasn’t the first book of hers that I had read. Overall I think I enjoyed the book, but it doesn’t really inspire me to pick up more of her work.

Side note – One thing that tends to stick out when reading a book aloud are errors, both spelling and grammatical. I was sad to see that “The Missing” (printed Oct 2007) had more than a few mistakes. Shame on whomever edited this edition. That is all.

Becky’s One Hundred and Ninetieth Book Review: “The One & Only” by Emily Giffin

“The One & Only” by Emily Giffin was a strange read. I’ve always enjoyed Emily Giffin’s writing and when I knew there was a new book coming out I was very excited about it. Life got the way it does and I hadn’t had a chance to read “The One & Only” even though I have had it in my possession for several months now. When I finally did pick it up I was a little surprised by how long it took me to get into the story; it was very different from her other novels.

The book opens on a funeral; Shea Rigsby‘s best friend just lost her mom. Shea and Lucy have been best friends since they were kids. Connie was a second mother (and a much more traditional one) to Shea, Lucy was her sister, and Coach was a father figure. It soon becomes clear that everyone loved Connie – her death was a huge blow to the whole town. The grieving widower is a highly acclaimed college football coach and his late wife was always in the games supporting the players, her husband, the college, and the town. In “The One & Only” everyone is trying to put their lives back together after losing such an important woman. The football season is off to a great start, everyone is trying to do better than their best to support Coach and honor his wife.

Shea has it pointed out to her that maybe she should make some changes in her life, push herself to be happy because that is what Connie would have wanted. She realizes that she is in a relationship that is going nowhere and in a job that also doesn’t seem to have a strong future. When Shea goes to break up with her boyfriend I found it interesting how she handled it. “I laughed, realizing that my strategy was backfiring. Miller really did crack me up, even when he wasn’t trying. He was so easy to be around. In over three years we hadn’t had a single fight, although I knew that said as much about my personality as about his. I avoided conflict at pretty much any cost.” (The One & Only, pg 42). This is a great example of how Shea Rigsby‘s mind works. You see this again and again. Shea puts herself in the position to be pushed around and taken advantage of. When she finally starts to stick up for herself those around her struggle to adjust. Everyone is taken aback when Shea decides to stop going with the flow.

SPOILER ALERT: I’M GOING TO BE GIVING AWAY QUITE A BIT OF THE STORY BELOW.

Shea seems to get her shit together the further into the story that you get. She goes after an amazing job that she lands against all odds, she gets away from Miller, and she starts dating a guy that has a future and seems to treat her right. At the same time, there are hints that she is actually yearning for someone else. This was just something that I couldn’t get behind. “I stopped a few yards away from Coach, overcome with a rush of pure joy. We were completely alone on a beautiful night, and I simply couldn’t imagine anything more exhilarating.” (The One & Only, pg 174). The guy that Shea is really in love with is Coach, they guy that helped raise her, whom lost his wife at the beginning of the book, her best friend’s dad. It had an ick factor to it.

It seemed like this book was going to go in a very different direction. Shea seemed to be building up on her strengths and really developing into a strong person. Then she quit the job that she loved with no prospects and ended up with the guy. It just kind of ended. Instead of it being about a woman that discovers her own abilities, as I thought it was headed, she just ends up with the guy that she loves. Nice and all, but not really what I had expected and frankly it was disappointing. Right as Shea seems to really be developing into a strong character, it’s just gone. She chooses her best friend over the man she loves (after an ultimatum) and then when her best friend gives her approval, she gets it all. But not the job, not anything that is just hers, it was almost a backwards progression. Is it really happily ever after for Shea? It seemed kind of empty.

Would I recommend this book? Not really. Not to most. Emily Giffin is a good writer and I enjoy getting lost in her works, but I just couldn’t get past how much Shea seems to give up in “The One & Only”. It went from being about a girl discovering her strengths to just being about a relationship that I found to be on the icky side.

Becky’s One Hundred and Eighty-Ninth Book Review: “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson

“Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson is an extremely powerful young adult novel. I read it back in high school and decided to revisit it again. Reading the book a second time around I found myself struck by just how accurately Laurie Halse Anderson is able to capture high school and how it feels to not fit in.

The first line that really struck me was on the fourth page. The main character, Melinda Sordino tells the reader: “I am Outcast” (Speak, pg 4). We know from the beginning of the book that Melinda has lost all her friends and the majority of the school hates her. We soon learn that she has gained this notoriety by calling the cops at an end-of-the-year party, which ended up getting a lot of kids in trouble. We do not know why she called the cops. It is obvious to the reader that Melinda is depressed and that something has happened to cause this depression, but we do not know what. One thing that is made clear to the reader is why the book is titled “Speak”. Melinda is told multiple times throughout the book that she needs to speak, talk, and share her thoughts and feelings. The Melinda the readers know has retreated into herself. And very early in the book Melinda goes into a rant about it. “It is easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say.” (Speak, pg 9). I thought this was very powerful and also an interesting foreshadowing into the rest of the book.

Part of what makes “Speak” such an interesting read is learning how the other people in Melinda’s life react to her drastic change in personality. Although as the reader we meet the depressed, introverted, anti-social Melinda, it becomes clear that this is not how she has always been. More and more frequently it is hinted that the catalyst for her personality change happened at the end-of-the-year party. “I know my head isn’t screwed on straight. I want to leave, transfer, warp myself to another galaxy. I want to confess everything, hand over the guilt and mistake and anger to someone else. There is a beast in my gut, I can hear it scraping away at the inside of my ribs. Even if I dump the memory, it will stay with me, staining me. My closet is a good thing, a quiet place that helps me hold these thoughts inside my head where no one can hear them.” (Speak, pg 51). I thought this quote was quite potent.

As we get further into the school year, Melinda seems to find a kind of refuge in art. I liked that she was able to find something to tether her to the world. Art grounds her and frees her at the same time and I think that a large part of this has to do with her art teacher really encouraging her to take her time, experiment, and lose herself in the art. At one point he is explaining to her how art without emotion is like chocolate without sugar. He then goes on to say, “Think about love, or hate, or joy, or rage – whatever makes you feel something, makes your palms sweat or your toes curl. Focus on that feeling. When people don’t express themselves they die one piece at a time.” (Speak, pg 122). I really liked this quote and I agree with it. It is important for people to find an outlet in which they can express themselves. I believe that Melinda was able to find the strength she held within herself by discovering it first through her art.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. I think that “Speak” is a very powerful novel that would appeal to a wide audience. I really enjoyed the way that this book was written where Melinda was narrating and the only communication we see from anyone else is seen through her eyes. She observes how individuals behave while they are speaking to her and it makes for a refreshing read. I also think that Melinda’s strength grows throughout the novel and it is interesting to watch it develop. I think that this is an excellent read, one that would appeal to anyone that has ever felt like they were on the outside.

“Sometimes I think high school is one long hazing activity: if you are tough enough to survive this, they’ll let you become an adult. I hope it’s worth it.” (Speak, pg 191)

Becky’s One Hundred and Eighty-Eighth Book Review: “Shopaholic on Honeymoon” by Sophie Kinsella

“Shopaholic on Honeymoon” by Sophie Kinsella is a fun short story that takes place between the third (Shopaholic Ties the Knot) and the fourth (Shopaholic & Sister) shopaholic books. I know I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of short stories, but I was pretty pleased with this one. This is also a rare situation where I wouldn’t recommend this short story as a way to get a taste of Sophie Kinsella’s writing. The main reason being that the entirety of the shopaholic series is a lot of fun and I feel like starting in the middle would just be a bit crazy. As an alternative, I would point a potential Sophie Kinsella fan to one of her stand-alone novels to get a sense of her writing. They’re all wonderfully entertaining and reading one book is not as much of a commitment as starting an entire series.

SPOILER ALERT: THERE ARE REFERENCES TO THE OTHER BOOKS IN THE SHOPAHOLIC SERIES THROUGHOUT THIS REVIEW. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED

The premise of the short story is all in the title, “Shopaholic on Honeymoon”. The story opens up on Luke and Becky in the very beginning of their honeymoon. At the conclusion of “Shopaholic Ties the Knot” Becky reveals that she returned all the gifts they received as wedding presents and used the cash to buy round-the-world tickets for the two of them. The proposed plan is to take a year off and spend it traveling. In “Shopaholic on Honeymoon”, Luke is having difficulty coming to terms with not working for any period of time. “The truth is, Luke’s not brilliant at going on holiday. He doesn’t really get the whole chilling-out-and-doing-nothing thing.” (Shopaholic on Honeymoon, loc 109).

Most of the story is dedicated to Becky trying to get Luke to relax and enjoy himself rather than rushing back into work. She finds herself trying to balance between getting Luke to relax and enjoy the honeymoon and getting him to understand the importance of souvenirs. Of course rather than hauling all their goodies around for the whole trip, Becky has been sending things back home. ““Won’t it be fun when we get home and open everything we’ve bought?” I turn to Luke. “It’ll be like Christmas!”
“Yes.” Luke looks a little doubtful. “Becky, we must keep track of everything we send back.”
“Of course we will!” I say, a bit impatiently. “I’ll remember everything.” Luke has such a way of inventing problems that don’t exist.” (Shopaholic on Honeymoon, loc 78). I liked this reference to “Shopaholic & Sister” where Luke and Becky return home to find that they ordered quite a lot during their honeymoon. It is one thing that Luke is less than happy about when they return home.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I thought it was a fun addition to the Shopaholic series. It was nice to have a short visit to Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood)’s world while I wait for the next book in the series to come out. I do highly recommend Sophie Kinsella’s work. She provides a great blend of problems and humor to keep you coming back again and again to the worlds she creates. I really enjoy her sense of humor. This one quote discussing museum visits I just have to share: “…There’s just the right amount of art. Enough that you can nod and go “Mmmm” and appreciate it and everything, but not so much that your eyes start to blur over and you start wanting to die.” (Shopaholic on Honeymoon, loc 117).