Book Reviews, To My Reader

Blair’s Top Five Books of 2016


Before I begin talking about my reading goals for 2017 I want to share five of my favorite books from last year. At the start of the year, I couldn’t find the time to read as many books as I would have liked, but the number slowly increased in the last few months. Although I didn’t read a lot of books I would say that the quality of the few I did read improved greatly. I am much more careful when it comes to picking out what I want to read next and I hope to continue that in the new year. So, without more dallying here are the Top Five Books I read in 2016. I decided to choose only five due to the amount I had to pick from. They’re in no particular order and each pick is based on my personal opinion.



The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

A story split into three parts, this high fantasy novel follows the journey of a young man named Kvothe as he seeks the knowledge to a childhood tragedy. Patrick Rothfuss’ worldbuilding shines and his characters feel more real than those in the contemporary genre. I am eagerly awaiting book three titled, “The Doors of Stone.” After I finally got around to reading this book it automatically jumped to one of my all time favorites. I even have my silver talent pipes to prove it! This is a story for those who love stories. The Name of the Wind is poetic and damn near perfect.



From Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon.

Following the life of two childhood friends during the German occupation of Italy and WWII, From Sand and Ash desperately reminds us that even in our most difficult moments good still exists. Eva’s Jewish heritage forces her to go into hiding despite her desire to help those less fortunate than her. With the help of Angelo, a young priest, and friend, she must learn to survive in a place bloodied by war. Amy Harmon out does herself with each book she writes. A truly emotional read that won’t let you forget. I ended my reading year with this book and it was exactly what I needed.



Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas.

The 5th installment of the Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas continues the story of our beloved female assassin, only this time she’s building an army. I have been reading these books since they were first released in 2012 and couldn’t forget to include Empire of Storms on this list. Although I have found problems with the story in recent years Sarah J. Maas’ characters leap off the page. With every book in this series, the stakes are raised to heart-stopping limits. This one was no exception and is likely one of the most emotional endings in YA literature. It will be bittersweet to close the door on these characters after the final novel comes out sometime in 2017.



Nevernight by Jay Kristoff.

Set in a world where the three suns never give way to night, Nevernight introduces a classic story of revenge inspired by the historic city of Venice. The plot itself may not seem all that original, but Jay Kristoff really brings this story to life through his unique writing style. His writing is ornate and the language he uses is unforgiving and crude. Kristoff is well aware that most of his readers started by reading his numerous YA series, but he doesn’t try to hide the brutality within this particular novel. Like his readers, his content is becoming more mature too.


A Little Life

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

A Little Life is an adult contemporary novel following the lives of four college friends who are attempting to succeed in their chosen careers while living in New York City. However, it is Jude St. Francis this story centers around the most as his horrific past is uncovered throughout the novel. This book took me six months to complete and I have never been so emotionally exhausted by any work of art before. Hanya Yanagihara writes in such raw detail that it’s hard to look away. I felt as though someone had opened up my ribcage and dissected my heart, reached into the recesses of my mind and taken something without my knowledge. It was just that good. I think about it constantly.

What were your favorite books of 2016?





Book Reviews, To My Reader

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

27190613Published: June 28th, 2016 by Delacorte Press.

Format: Hardcover, 475 pages.

Goodreads Summary: No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

Thoughts: And I Darken follows two siblings who find themselves prisoners of the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s. It is most notably described as a gender bend of Vlad the Impaler, a brutal ruler of what is now known as Romania. As soon as I heard about this novel I couldn’t click ‘read’ fast enough. It’s refreshing to see YA branching out and covering a topic of history that not many people know about. Kiersten White has done her research, for the book stays consistent in historical accuracy throughout. While reading, I felt like I learned more regardless of my prior knowledge of this time in history. It’s fascinating! The author has mentioned that she will take more creative liberties in the next two books to make her story work.

Our two main characters captured my attention instantly. Ladislav is an unattractive young woman fighting to be a warrior in a man’s world. She demands respect and breaks every rule of the Ottoman court as she attempts to return to her homeland. On the other side of the coin, her brother Radu must find strength in a different way. Although he has the benefit of being a handsome male, Radu is punished for his kindness which many around him perceive as a weakness. Unlike his sister, he finds a place in the Ottoman Empire despite other misfortunes. Lada and Radu both find themselves at the mercy of their emotions and this acts a catalyst for much of the novel. They will work with and against each other to secure their place in this society. Both characters are complex and illustrate important gender themes highlighted within the novel.

“As the baby latched on with surprising fierceness, the nurse offered her own prayer.
Let her be strong.
Let her be sly.
And let her be ugly.”

And I Darken transports readers into a vivid world of castles surrounded by mountains and ornate buildings containing harems. The writing was dense, but this seemed fitting for the story. When I was reading I was completely enveloped by the setting and found it difficult to pull myself out of it. I will admit that the plot is slow and meticulous. Therefore, it requires your utmost attention as every sentence reveals pieces of the story. Knowing this, And I Darken may not be for everyone. The first book covers a large amount of time in the span of roughly 500 pages. The Conquerors Saga will consist of three books, the next one releasing in Summer of 2017. For readers who enjoy Historical Fiction, Fantasy, or YA this is a novel you don’t want to miss. This brutal novel will gut you.

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Bookish Tags, To My Reader

Bookish Tags: Hamilton Book Tag

Bookish Tags

Like everyone else on the internet I’ve taken quite a liking to the Broadway Musical about the American founding father Alexander Hamilton. Okay, I haven’t been able to stop listening to the soundtrack but that’s beside the point. If you haven’t listened to any of the songs the entire album is on Spotify. Anyway, a Youtuber by the name of Maureen created a tag involving both Hamilton and books! To check out the original video you can click here to watch it.

A quick warning before starting that there may be spoilers below. Proceed with caution! If you haven’t read A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and don’t want to be spoiled stop reading NOW.


Question 1: “The Room Where It Happens”

A book world you’d put yourself into..

6547258For this question I’m picking Scadrial or The Final Empire in the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. It’s not the cleanest of places, but there are so many different areas to explore. Not to mention the interesting people who live there. I’ve always wanted to visit a high-fantasy world and Sanderson is an expert at creating complex ones.

Question 2: “The Schuyler Sisters” 

An Underrated Female Character..

7417780 (1)My choice has to be Georgie Finch from Melina Marchetta’s novel The Piper’s Son. This book is highly underrated and although the plot itself is subtle it carries a powerful message of family. Georgie has to go through misfortunes of death and betrayal, but regardless of her heartbreak still she finds time to help her depressed nephew. She’s a wonderful character that deserves more appreciation.

Question 3: “My Shot” 

A character that goes after what they want and doesn’t let anything stop them..

27190613This one goes to a new favorite character of mine. Ladislav – the daughter of Vlad Dracul (yes, that Vlad!) knows exactly what she wants and doesn’t follow the rules. She is bloodthirsty and violently protective of those she cares about, which is few. Lada is brutally honest and won’t hesitate to rip out someone’s throat. How lovely. She is a main character in the new novel And I Darken by Kiersten White.

Question 4: “Burn” 

The Most Heartbreaking end to a Relationship You’ve Read..

27362503It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover. My heart hurts. In the event of massive spoilers I won’t say anything else. Read this book!

Question 5: “You’ll Be Back”

Sassiest Villain.. 

17675462The only villain that comes to mind instantly is Piper Greenmantle from The Raven Boys Quartet by Maggie Stiefvater. Or really any of the villains in this series. Although she isn’t my favorite evil character of all time her comments are golden, and I can’t help but laugh every time she speaks to her husband.

Question 6: “The Reynolds Pamphlet”

A book with a twist you didn’t see coming..

8490112For this answer I’m picking Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Lani Taylor. It was such a creative twist to a story that already had me clenched within its claws. This trilogy keeps getting better and better. I knew this story was weird, but I would have never guessed what would happen. It’s fantastic!

Question 7: “Non-Stop”

A series you marathoned.. 

angelfall-susan-eeI’ll admit that I was late to this party, but decided that I finally had to read it. When I started Angelfall by Susan Ee I was hooked. The first book reads like a movie and everything is so easy to visualize. After finishing one book I couldn’t stop. I remember staying up all night reading World After (book two) and rushing to finish the last book. It was worth it.

Question 8: “Satisfied”

Your favorite book with multiple Point of Views.. 

11264999There are so many books I could’ve picked and I’m sure many others have chosen this as well but I couldn’t help it. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin is the ultimate book when it comes to a wide variety of characters. Each character adds to the massive scope of A Song of Ice and Fire. For those of you who were wondering, Arya and Jon are my favorite characters to read from.

Question 9: “Stay Alive” 

A character you wish was still alive..

A Little LifeWillem. Do I even have to explain? For more about this heartbreaking and fantastic story read my review here. It’s my favorite book of all time.

Question 10: “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story”

A Book/Series that you believe will be remembered in history..

3What other book is there to pick besides Harry Potter by J.K Rowling? It 11016gave magic to an entire generation and then some. But in order to be a little more interesting with my answer I decided to pick my favorite classic too. Jane Eyre.


Book Reviews, To My Reader

Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

15507958Published: December 31st 2012 by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking.

Format: Kindle, 385 pages.

Goodreads Summary: Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has never been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.
Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

Thoughts: What a bittersweet read this was. Technically Me Before You would be considered romance, but I’d argue that it focuses more on self-growth and the prominent role of family. The story follows the life of Louisa Clark before and after she meets a wheelchair bound quadriplegic named Will. He is moody and quite mean, but Lou doesn’t let that stop her from getting her job done. Her lighthearted spirit and unique clothing choices are magnified from the very first page as she attempts to cheer Will up. I loved the interactions between these two characters and just how important the dialogue was. While I was reading, I could vividly picture every scene. And although the writing isn’t delicate prose, it is still lovely and distinctive.

One of the things I really liked about this story was the inclusion of family within the novel. Both Lou and Will are constantly surrounded by their families and these other relationships are not sidelined. Too many books these days don’t even include the role of family at all and I find that incredibly unrealistic. Lou’s relationship with her sister and Will’s relationship with his mother are at center focus in this novel. I also like that this book features a main character with a disability. It provides readers with a wider perspective of mankind, but even in 2016 there aren’t many books tackling the topic of disability. It’s incredibly important to try and understand the struggles of others, and reading can be a perfect way to do that. JoJo Moyes does a fantastic job keeping Will’s life as realistic as it can be.

I still had a few issues regarding decisions made within the novel, but at the same time I can understand why certain choices were made. In the end, I wished that we had gotten just a little bit more before the ending. I’m sure I’m not alone on this. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book! It emphasizes the importance of living in the moment and spending your life walking outside your comfort zone. I recommend that you have tissues with you while reading.

“Push yourself. Don’t Settle. Just live well. Just live.”

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I haven’t see the movie adaption yet, but plan on doing a movie review when that time comes. Have you/ Will you see the movie?



To My Reader

Wishlist Wednesday: #26

It’s time for another Wishlist Wednesday! This weekly book-related blog hop was started wishlist-wednesdayby Dani at Pen to Paper and each week those who participate share one book that they desperately want to add to their bookshelf. I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly finding new titles that I feel deserve a spot on my shelf. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. So without further ado here’s this weeks pick.

I decided to go with a classic this week. This story was one of my favorites as a child, but oddly I’ve never actually read the novel that the popular Disney movie was based on. Welcome to a world of lost boys, pirates, and magic…

Title: Peter Pan700817

Author: J.M.Barrie

Format: Paperback, 185 pages.

Publication: January 26th 1995 by Penguin Books. Originally published in 1911.

Goodreads Summary: The boy who refuses to grow up teaches Wendy and her younger brothers how to fly. Then it’s off to magical Neverland for adventures with mermaids, Indians, and wicked Captain Hook and his pirate crew in this illustrated, easy-reading adaptation of the classic fantasy.

Many adaptions of  Peter Pan have been made over the years, from movies to music and tv shows. This story has been capturing children’s imaginations for generations. I can’t wait to read the book that started it all.



Book Reviews, To My Reader

Book Review: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

42672Published: September 21st, 1937.

Format: Hardcover, 278 pages. 75th Anniversary Edition.

Goodreads Summary: Whisked away from his comfortable, unambitious life in his hobbit-hole in Bag End by Gandalf the wizard and a company of dwarves, Bilbo Baggins finds himself caught up in a plot to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon.

Thoughts: I cannot tell you how much I adore this book. It became a huge part of my childhood and my parents read it to me more times then I care to admit. It wasn’t difficult to immerse myself in a world of magic, Hobbits, Wood Elves, and Dwarves. The author J.R.R. Tolkien spent a majority of his life creating a universe that is beloved today by readers all over the world. And although the story was originally written as gift for his children, it became a gift for many others too.

The thing that J.R.R. Tolkien does masterfully well is world building and description. It isn’t difficult to visualize the lush green hills of Hobbiton, or the chilling peaks of The Lonely Mountain. The world and those who dwell in every part have been created with detailed care. The characters are magnificent and there is an underlying history to uncover. It’s difficult to review a story you have loved since you were a child. The characters may be small in proportion, but they are strong in willpower and ambition. The story itself is a charming and at most times lighthearted adventure story. So often we fantasize about broadly built warriors and women who appear angelic and lovely. These characters are widely recorded in all cultures in one form or another, and these tales have likely helped bring into fruition our modern standards of beauty. J.R.R. Tolkien takes another path. He introduces main characters who are anything but beautiful or strong (at least physically), but nonetheless they steer the story forward. They are portrayed and understood as tiny and mundane. The Hobbit is a story about finding bravery in all forms. Even the tiniest creatures with hairy toes. This message was no doubt beneficial to the children who read this book when they were younger, but I would argue that adults need to be reminded of this too.

For those of you looking at reading The Lord of the Rings I would recommend that you read The Hobbit first because it will introduce you to the world and a few terms and histories important to continuing the trilogy. You can’t go wrong with the movies either. I admit that I am biased in writing this review (if you can even call it that). Forget that this is a children’s book, although some older readers may look down on the story because of it’s lighter nature. Maybe you should look more carefully then. If you have yet to read anything from  J.R.R. Tolkien then I believe you owe it to yourself to try. Who knows, you could eventually challenge Stephen Colbert in a “Tolkien Showdown.”

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Book Reviews, To My Reader

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade final for IrenePublished: February 24th 2015 by Tor Books.

Format: Kindle, 401 pages.

Goodreads Summary: Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.
Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.
But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.

Thoughts: I was a huge fan of V.E. Schwab after reading her urban fantasy novel Vicious –  a novel of anti heroes who worship self inflicting pain. After reading and loving her first novel I had to give her new one a try. This is a story about power at it’s most basic form and how it can corrupt the human spirit. Set within the backdrop of four parallel cities, A Darker Shade of Magic has the potential to capture its readers in a world of magic and adventure. Unfortunately, I didn’t find myself as taken by the novel as other readers had. The writing was perfectly fine and in most ways exceeded the standard for sentence level quality in the young adult genre. And although I liked the plot, I wasn’t invested in it.

The main characters Kell and Lila felt like characters I’d read about before. One being the “the chosen one” who suddenly stumbles upon an extremely powerful object and takes it into his own hands to see that the danger is destroyed. Kell was a character who knew he was powerful and although I liked how kind he was, I couldn’t help but think I’d read his storyline before. Lila, on the other hand, was a troubled young woman who wanted adventure and wasn’t very girly. She was stubborn and unafraid of dangerous situations. Here’s the thing, I have nothing against strong (kickass) female characters in books, but it’s starting to become common in this genre. It’s as if we have found something that works and now that’s the only route we can travel. I would hate to see strong females turned into literary tropes.  Writers of young adult we’ve been here before. That’s not to say I didn’t like Lila. She was spunky and knew what she wanted. However, I found that in all 401 pages both these characters never went through any noticeable character development. That is vital to a story.

I know V.E. Schwab released a second book in this series titled, A Gathering of Shadows and likely worked on character development later on in the story, but with little to none in the first book there’s nothing pushing me to continue. I don’t think I’ll be picking it up anytime soon. If you enjoy magical worlds then I suggest you give this book a shot. As I’ve gotten older I have come to appreciate darker and more complex plots. This tells me that our reading tastes can change as we are introduced to more works. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of A Darker Shade of Magic I will be looking out for more from V.E. Schwab in the future. Give this one a try.

“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

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