Book Review | The Maze Runner by James Dashner

9780385737951Some people might think that The Maze Runner is a Hunger Games wannabe, but since it was published only one month after Hunger Games, the people who think that obviously don’t know how long it takes to write a book. That said, it’s definitely going to appeal to the same audience.

If you are thinking about reading this book, here’s what you need to know:

The plot is compelling. The main character, Thomas, wakes up in an elevator without any memory of his life before now. He gets off the elevator to discover a society made up of teenage guys who also can’t remember their former lives. Hemmed in by a gargantuan maze, Thomas and the others must find their way through in order to figure out why they are there in the first place. However, no one’s ever made it through the maze alive. And then, just one day after Thomas shows up, something happens that has never happened before. A girl arrives on the elevator with a warning. Everything is going to change.

The characters are less compelling. In fact, at times, they are downright tiresome. If I had more time, I would go back and count how many times Thomas says something like, “I can’t understand why, but I know that I want to be a Maze Runner.” Anyway, if I had a nickel for every instance, I’d be a dollar or so richer. Also, none of the characters undergo any dynamic shifts, but since this is only the first book in a series, perhaps I need to keep reading in order to see some change.

This book will soon be a film. So if you are the type of person who likes reading a book before seeing the film, you’ll want to pick it up. Here’s the film’s trailer:

Basically, if you like young adult post-apocalyptic thrillers where teens have to battle monsters (without and within) and the elements in order to fight the oppressive regime that controls their lives, you’ll probably like The Maze Runner. I’d give it a 7/10. It was worth reading, but I don’t know if I’d read it twice. Who knows? Maybe when I finish the series, my tune will change (yeah, I plan on finishing the series).

Bookstore Appreciation

Baker Book House under construction.

Today, the bookstore where I work is having a customer appreciation day. The book business is always a bit slower in the summer months, and around Baker Book House, construction hasn’t helped much. But we still have customers who come in nearly everyday, and we are very appreciative for them.

For anyone in driving distance, it’ll be a good day to stop in. The deals are listed below, plus we have a book signing with Peter Schriemer and coffee and frappe samples from Icons Coffee (the coffee shop that will take up residency when the remodel is finished).

I’m fairly certain that most of my readers here are book lovers. And being a book lover, you probably have a favorite bookstore. I know from personal experience what bookstores love about their patrons, but what makes your favorite bookstore your favorite bookstore? What makes you appreciate them?

Also, what would make you feel most appreciated by them?

8 Questions | Meet Author M. I. McAllister

M. I. McAllister

A while back, I reviewed the first book in the Mistmantle Chronicles by M. I. McAllister, Urchin of the Riding Stars. I’ll save you the time of reading the review and tell you that it was an excellent book.

I wanted to thank the author for writing it, so I found her website and sent off an email of thanks and a link to my review.

I really didn’t expect to hear anything back, but the next day, I got a message in my inbox from Margi McAllister herself! We’ve written back and forth a couple of times since, so I asked if I could interview her on my blog. She kindly consented.

Here are the questions I asked:

– What does your writing space look like?

– What passes through your brain when you see one of your books on the shelf at a bookshop?

– What do you want people to know about your aside from your writing?

– How did you get into writing?

– Any advice for other writers?

– What would you do if you could no longer write books?

– If you could have an afternoon with a character from one of your books, who would you choose? Why?

– What book is on your nightstand at the moment?

Here are her responses:

My writing space at present is tucked away at the top of the house.  We have a converted attic, which is one long room divided up by the furniture.  At one end is my daughter’s room (she’s grown up and lives away from home, so she’s not often there,)  at the other end is my study, and in between is the Pink Sitting-Room where men are only allowed if they take off their shoes and promise not to talk about football.

The laptop sits on a rather elegant writing bureau which I bought for very little in an antique market, and there are masses of deep bookshelves, crammed solid.  It looks untidy, but I know which heap everything is in!  The clutter is more to do with the work I do for children’s clubs and school visits.  And when I look up from the desk I have a beautiful view of the moors.

You ask about what passes through my mind when I see one of my books in a shop.  There’s a little jump of my heart to see that they’ve got it, followed by – why haven’t they sold that yet?

What do I want people to know about me apart from my writing?  Not a lot, really, except my storytelling sessions!  Anything I do want to talk about is on the blog, which is From The House of Stories (you can find it through the website at www.margaretmcallister.co.uk .  Things I want to share – about faith, about the things I care about, about what’s going on nationally or locally, and anything I find funny – are all in there.  I’m passionate about justice, and about doing the best for children.  I’m blessed to have lived in and visited some blessed and beautiful places, and I like sharing them.  I love gardens, history, and wildlife.  Of course my family are more than vital to me, but I don’t want my children’s privacy invaded so I’m a bit cautious in what I say about them.

I’ve always written.  I was born that way, and I can’t help it.  That’s my defense, and I’m sticking with it.  At school I was always writing things, (usually when I was supposed to be something else) and I have a great record of failing to get published.  Then, when my youngest son started school, I took an evening class in writing short stories.  That led to me getting stories published in magazines, which gave me confidence to write my first book, A Friend for Rachel, later renamed The Secret Mice.

For other writers – read.  Read.  Read more.  If you like a book, what made it work for you?  If you didn’t, what was wrong with it?  Don’t just think about writing, do it.  And don’t wait for inspiration.  Just write.

What would I do if I could no longer write?  I often wonder about this!  I use to say I’d retrain in geriatric care – lots of people want to look after little children, but there’s nothing so attractive about looking after elderly, and they’re so important.  But since injuring my back, I don’t think I  could do all that heavy lifting.  I’d have to go back to one of the jobs I’ve done before – home tutoring, adult education, caring for a beautiful old building, working in a retreat house, or washing up in a coffee shop – I’m not too proud to get my hands dirty!

Which of my characters would I like to spend an afternoon with?  What a great question!  It’s not one I’ve ever considered before.  Kazy Clare from Hold My Hand and Run would be great company.  I admire Thomasin from High Crag Linn enormously, but she can be a bit prickly.  I’d love to spend an afternoon with Fingal, because he makes me laugh, or Urchin with all those adventures to talk about.   Or Sepia – she’s a calm, gentle person, but so tough inside.  But if I could only choose one, it would have to be Crispin.  The hero’s hero.  He has such experience and wisdom, such a strong centre, and a way of noticing more than he lets on.  And a perfect gentle-squirrel.  (Do you think we could meet in Fir’s turret, so he could be there, too?  He contains elements of people who were very dear to me.)

What am I reading just now?  Several things at once.  An Aspect of Fear, by Grace Sheppard, who was the wife of the Bishop of Liverpool.  She was agoraphobic, and wrote from her experiences of dealing with fear while filling a public role.

I love anything by Simon Parke, who writes with authority about quietness, meditation, and the need to embrace simplicity.  The book of his I have on the go just now is The Beautiful Life.  I heard him speak at Greenbelt Christian Arts Festival a few years ago.

My younger son introduced me to the works of Terry Pratchett, and I LOVE Discworld!  They are clever, moving, great page-turners, and actually have some depth.  Did I mention that they’re laugh out loud funny?  Just now I’m reading Lords and Ladies.  A unicorn just got lost on the way through a stone circle.  As Granny Weatherwax would say, oh deary, deary me.

I normally edit things so they follow more of a question/answer format, but I didn’t want to risk editing out the beautiful answers that Margi gave.

I sincerely hope that you’ll go out and buy as many of her books as you can carry. Thanks for reading!

A Game of Thrones | Summer Reading

This past weekend, my wife and I got together with my coworker, Debbie, and her husband, Bruce, to play board games and eat pizza. Our guests met while working together at Baker Book House (in fact, back when they started, I was the store trainer and trained them how to be good employees), but due to a company policy against married people working together, one of them had to find another job. Of course, Bruce ended up finding a job in another local, indie bookstore.

Now, my wife and Debbie are part of a book club that is primarily made up of people with some connection to Baker Book House (employees, friends of employees, spouses of employees, you get the idea). I’m not going to say that I am jealous of their group, but I’m jealous of their group. True, I am part of a men’s Bible study that reads books and the Bible together. True, I am part of a writer’s group that gets together to discuss our own books and occasionally other books that pass in front of us. But neither of those are really a book club.

Our first book club book

So, Bruce and I decided to start our own reading club. Our first book is going to be George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Though the book has been made into a faithful film adaptation by HBO, neither Bruce nor I have seen it, which is all to the good, as I am a firm believer in reading the book first when a filmed version is being made. This may make me a purist or a book snob, but I don’t care. Those names don’t bother me.”But when will you fit the reading in?” asked my wife, and rightfully so.

You see, my wife is pregnant and nearing the July due date and we are already parents of an adorable and energetic one-and-a-half year old. We also both work full-time and I do this writing thing when I have a moment or two to spare. Throw in family obligations and a small social life with friends and we already have a lot on our plate.

“I’ll find some time,” was my hopeful response.

Here’s the plan: Bruce and I are going to start now and read about 100 pages per week (it isn’t really that much). The book is a bit over 800 pages, so it will take about two months to finish. We’re going to meet up some time in August to discuss the book. We don’t know the date or the place yet. We’ll figure that out when the time gets closer.

Here’s the offer: If you want to be part of our book club, just mention your desire in the comments and read the book with us. Need the book? Get it here. If you are in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area in August and feel like being part of the discussion, you’re welcome to join us. I’m thinking that we’ll meet up in a public location anyway.

Here’ the challenge: What should the book club be called? We exist to balance the fact that our wives are part of a ladies book club which reads memoirs and pop fiction. I’m guessing that this book club that Bruce and I are starting is going to focus more on Fantasy/Sci-Fi or other more male-dominated genres or titles. Now, that doesn’t mean that we are excluding ladies from reading with us, it is just to define the type of books that we are going to read. If you have a book club name idea, leave that in the comments too.

Support Your Independents! – or – Links

I’ve only got three links for you this week, but they follow a theme, so it’s okay.

One of my co-workers forwarded me this link to a story by BBC News on an indie bookstore in Nashville. Why don’t you follow the link and then come back for the rest of the list? It’s cool. I’ll wait.

Did you follow the link and watch the video? Great. Now you understand why I liked it. I’ve said before that it is important for people to support their local independent bookstores, but I think Ann puts it beautifully in the video.

If you need further convincing that supporting local business is important, check out this page.

But where can you find an indie bookstore near you? Check out indiebound.org.

I know that it’s kind of short this week, but that’s okay from time to time. More time to write on my novel!

So, I’m not even going to take the time to give myself a report card (it wouldn’t be good anyway). But I will say this: Thanks for reading!

The Writing Processes of Vonnegut, Pratchett, Gorey, and Tolkien in Links

In an interview this week with a fellow blogger, I was asked who inspires me. I answered with four different authors, each chosen for a different reason (in order to find out what those reasons are, you’ll have to read the interview). This week, I decided to seek out any wisdom that my four favorites might have to share on the topic of writing.

I was introduced to the writing of Kurt Vonnegut in an ethics course offered by the Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University in my freshman year. We read Slaughterhouse Five and explored the morality represented within its pages. I’ve always enjoyed books, but I haven’t always enjoyed them when they were required reading for school. When I first read Slaughterhouse Five though, I couldn’t put it down. I think I read it twice before the due date and then again before the end of the semester. “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time…” Even just talking about Vonnegut’s work now makes me want to pick up a copy and read it over again. The link here features Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing. If you are a writer, I hope you click through.

It was sometime in my first year of working at Baker Book House when a coworker exposed me to the genius of Terry Pratchett. I think we were talking about sci-fi and fantasy stories when she told me that she was doing a paper for one of her literature classes on the topic of rule consistency when creating a fantasy world. “It doesn’t need to be just like it is in the real world, but it needs to be consistent within itself,” she said. She went on to tell me that she was using the works of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series as an example of consistency. When no flicker of recognition flashed on my face, she insisted that I read some. The next day, she brought me three books. “When you finish one of these, you are going to want another to start on right away,” she said. She was right. This link is for an interview that Pratchett did a few years back, and the relevant portion for writers begins about midway down the page.

I ran across Edward Gorey in college on a random excursion with my roommate, friend, and sometime muse, Adam. Together, we would visit Barnes and Noble and search through the bargain racks for anything that looked interesting. I picked up one of the Amphigorey books and was instantly in love with the mixture of dark humor, brilliant illustrations, and tales that forced the reader to fill in the blanks with their own imaginations. Alas, I could not find any advice to authors from Edward Gorey, but this link is for his book The Unstrung Harp or Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel, in which Gorey illustrates the creative process of novel-writing though at the time he wrote this story, he himself had never written a novel. Still, it isn’t far from the truth.

My last author for this list is actually the one that I read earliest in my life. My dad handed me a copy of The Hobbit when I was in 7th or 8th grade and told me that I might enjoy it. I devoured it. Tolkien’s style, characters, and voice drew me in (as they do for anyone who dares to read The Hobbit). After that, my dad gave me a copy of The Fellowship of the Rings which I breezed through as well. And then I hit The Two Towers and got bogged down along with Frodo and Sam in the Dead Marshes. Sadly, I set the series down for a full year before attempting another go. But by that time, I had forgotten half of the details of the story, so I decided to start the whole thing again from the beginning. The Hobbit, check. The Fellowship of the Ring, check. The Two Towers, I powered through it this time, check. After I finished The Return of the King, I was sad the journey was over. LOTR was all I could talk about with my dad for weeks. And then he asked if I knew about the Silmarillion, which I hadn’t. So I decided to start again with The Hobbit, plowed through LOTR, and picked up the Silmarillion. Oh man, I was in nerd heaven. So many things in LOTR were explained, origins of the races, where the wizards came from, what a Balrog is, tales from the first and second ages of the world before the third age (when LOTR is set)! I am helplessly a Tolkien fan, so when I saw this post on Tolkien’s 10 Tips for Writers by the wonderful blogger, Roger Colby, I knew that it was going to be good. Colby culled through Tolkien’s writings and interviews where he discussed his craft and came up with a solid list for writers to use as a reference. Be sure to check it out, as well as the rest of his site.

How I did this week. Also, fun links!Last, for my writing report card, I’m going to give myself a B+ for the week.

I got the most hits in one day to date on Wednesday, I did a blog swap with another blogger, and I had fresh content everyday. The only thing was that I didn’t get a chance to write much on my novel, but I’m not going to let that get me down. Good job, me!

Book Review | Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

The preface for today’s review goes like this: I didn’t think I would enjoy a book that deals heavily in the fairy realm… I was wrong.

Fablehaven is Brandon Mull‘s first in the series of the same title. The cover features endorsements by bestselling authors like Christopher Paolini (Eragon) and Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game). It’s an attractive book. The type of cover that calls out to kids (and adults like me) with a key scene and makes you wonder, “Now what is this all about then?”

Here’s the plot summary: When Mom and Dad win a cruise, Kendra and Seth Sorenson go off to stay with their grandparents. Little do they know that their grandparents are the caretakers of a magical preserve for mythical creatures. And when Seth decides to break some of the rules, the whole family is in danger. With enemies like wily witches and powerful demons, Kendra and Seth find help from a couple of rule-breaking satyrs and the Fairy Queen herself.

I don’t want to go to into detail here because it is a great read, and I would hate to spoil any of the twists that the author so skillfully weaves in.

That said, here are a few things that the author does well that we could all learn from.

Character Dichotomy – Kendra is definitely the protagonist, as we see the majority of the story through her eyes, but her brother Seth is the one who really moves the plot along, so I consider them both to be main characters. The great thing about having two main characters is that you can draw from their differences to enrich the story. Kendra is the quiet reflective one who follows orders well. Seth is her polar opposite. Either way, readers will have someone with whom they can identify.

Making It Worse – I sometimes feel bad for my own characters when I take them from one bad situation and place them in a worse one, but as long as we have characters that people care about, it is a great way to draw readers into our story and increase tension. Mull does a great job of both creating characters that we care about, as well as making them do things that make us cringe. I found myself often cursing Seth as I read because of the bad decisions that he made, but in the process, I was really saying that I care about these characters enough to want everything to turn out well in the end.

Parenting Tips – It’s kind of funny that in a story where the parent’s are absent (though not dead or completely out of the picture), real life parents would be able to pull so much out of the story in order to teach their kids. Many of the characters lend to teaching moments for parents who are reading this book with their kids (or teacher with their students). Things like, “Do you think it was a good idea for Seth to go off the path after his grandfather told him not to? What happened as a result?” Stuff like that.

Illustrations – I realize that this isn’t the author’s doing specifically, but kudos to the publisher (Aladdin – an imprint of Simon & Schuster) for including some excellent graphic illustrations in the book. They are one of the perks of the novel that have nothing to do with the story, but everything to do with the reading experience.

If you are a writer, check out this link for Brandon Mull’s advice to writers (young and otherwise). And whether you are a writer or not, pick up a copy of Fablehaven.

Book Giveaway | Four Books!

Here’s how this is going to work. I’ve got four books that I am giving away. If you want any of them, leave a comment with your order of preference. If you don’t want one of the books below, leave it off your list. Easy enough.

Full disclosure here, I borrowed these descriptions from the publishers.

In the concluding volume of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, Lisbeth Salander lies in critical condition in a Swedish hospital, a bullet in her head.

But she’s fighting for her life in more ways than one: if and when she recovers, she’ll stand trial for three murders. With the help of Mikael Blomkvist, she’ll need to identify those in authority who have allowed the vulnerable, like herself, to suffer abuse and violence. And, on her own, she’ll seek revenge–against the man who tried to killer her and against the corrupt government institutions that nearly destroyed her life.

Kate, Michael, and Emma have been in one orphanage after another for the last ten years, passed along like lost baggage.

Yet these unwanted children are more remarkable than they could possibly imagine. Ripped from their parents as babies, they are being protected from a horrible evil of devastating power, an evil they know nothing about.

Until now.

Before long, Kate, Michael, and Emma are on a journey to dangerous and secret corners of the world…a journey of allies and enemies, of magic and mayhem.  And—if an ancient prophesy is correct—what they do can change history, and it is up to them to set things right.

The Emerald Atlas brims with humor and action as it charts Kate, Michael, and Emma’s extraordinary adventures through an unforgettable, enchanted world.

The long-awaited companion to New York Times bestsellers Graceling and Fire

Eight years after Graceling, Bitterblue is now queen of Monsea. But the influence of her father, a violent psychopath with mind-altering abilities, lives on. Her advisors, who have run things since Leck died, believe in a forward-thinking plan: Pardon all who committed terrible acts under Leck’s reign, and forget anything bad ever happened. But when Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle–disguised and alone–to walk the streets of her own city, she starts realizing that the kingdom has been under the thirty-five-year spell of a madman, and the only way to move forward is to revisit the past.

Two thieves, who only steal what has already been stolen, change her life forever. They hold a key to the truth of Leck’s reign. And one of them, with an extreme skill called a Grace that he hasn’t yet identified, holds a key to her heart.

Shadow Blizzard is the third book by the international bestselling fantasy author Alexey Pehov. Like Shadow Prowler and Shadow Chaser, Shadow Blizzard is epic fantasy at its best; this is the third book in a trilogy that follows Shadow Harold, Siala’s master thief, on his quest for the magic Horn that will restore peace to his world. After the loss of friends and comrades, after betrayal and battle, after capture by fearsome orcs, Harold finally reaches the dreaded Hrad Spein. But before he can complete his quest by stealing the magic horn, he will have to brave the most fearsome obstacles yet—obstacles that have destroyed everyone before him…and Harold must do so alone.

This book giveaway is open only to people in the continental US. Be sure to leave your comment before 9pm next Monday night (2012/05/21), because that’s when this little contest ends.

If you are looking for another contest, check out this entry. The deadline there is the end of the month.

Book Review | The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee StewartThe book this week, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, is the first in a trilogy. I’ve chosen this book for two reasons. One, I think it’s a great book. And two, the prequel to this series (The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict) just came out. If either of these titles are new to you, my suggestion would be to start with The Mysterious Benedict Society, as it will provide a good introduction into the world of Mr. Benedict.

The plot summary goes like this: Reynie Muldoon is a gifted orphan who excels at problem solving and puzzles. Through a series of tests, Reynie meets three other children as gifted as he. Together, they are tasked by Mr. Benedict, their genius benefactor to thwart the plans of the mysterious Mr. Curtain. Going undercover at Mr. Curtain’s school for gifted children, Reynie and his friends encounter bullies, traps, and peculiar devices and they must work together with all of their abilities to achieve success.

The first time I learned of Trenton Lee Stewart’s books was in a bookstore after asking a clerk whose opinions I valued what she was reading. She instantly brought me a copy of The Mysterious Benedict Society and told me to read it. As a writer, I want to feature four things that made me appreciate Stewart as an author. If you are a writer, you should think about involving these elements into your own work.

The protagonists represent 4 ways to problem solve. Though the reader sees the story primarily from the Reynie’s perspective, each member of the Mysterious Benedict Society shows a different way to approach a problem. Reynie is a master of logic puzzles, Sticky remembers everything he sees, Kate is a human Swiss army knife, and Constance is obstinate. Readers will enjoy seeing a problem from different perspectives and may pick up on how to approach their own problems in a different light.

The supporting cast members are colorful and each has a back story. Stewart gives each of the background characters a unique feature to help the reader remember them. We know that Number 2 looks like a pencil, Milligan is sad and doesn’t remember his past, Mr. Benedict is a narcoleptic. In addition to being interesting, because of this extra information, each of the characters is instantly likeable. Details make the difference.

Not all the loose threads get tied up neatly. Though the main plot points come to an end, we know that the story must continue. It is a great formula to use when you want readers to anticipate the release of your next book. In my experience, readers don’t want everything to work out perfectly anyway, as it feels too distant from their own life experience.

The author uses a wider vocabulary than most children’s authors. In writing a story about gifted children, Stewart uses words that encourage kids to expand their vocabulary, thereby making the reader a little bit more like the protagonist. If you want to appeal to a smarter reader, use smarter words.

Again, I really enjoyed this book, and I think you will too.

Win Stuff | The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings Box Set

Leave me a comment with your ideas for this blog. Now. Do it now.

You could be as happy as me if you win this set of books.

Here’s the deal. I’m giving away a box set of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is the set that I bought right after the Fellowship of the Ring came out in theaters. I bought it to replace the well-worn copies that my dad had laying around. Well, I still have those well-worn copies. Also, my wife brought a really nice hardcover set into the marriage. As much as it pains me to say this, I don’t need three copies of the same series. So I’m giving this box set away.

If you’ve never read the whole series, now’s your chance. If you are quick about it, you can just finish them in time for the arrival of The Hobbit (part one) in the theaters this December.

So how can you win?

Simple. Just tell me what you’d like to see from this blog of mine. Share with me any questions that you have, any ideas for posts, any themes or categories that I’m lacking. Just leave a comment below and you’ll be entered to win. I’ll pull the winner next Monday, April 30th, and announce the results here on my blog.

The Fine Print: I’m not made of money, so although I love international comments, I can’t ship internationally. Sorry about that.