Book Reviews, To My Reader

Blair’s Top Five Books of 2016

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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 Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little LifePublished: March 10th, 2015 by Doubleday.

Format: Hardcover, 720 pages.

Goodreads Summary: When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

Thoughts: I didn’t know what to do with myself after finishing this novel. My heart is still heavy with a sorrow so profound that it has enveloped me. It took me six months to complete this story, and I have no regrets.

Although this novel follows the lives of four friends fresh out of college, you will learn quickly that the story centers mostly around Jude. He is the most secretive of the bunch and must carry memories full of terror and devastation that latch onto him like a parasite. I hadn’t discovered this novel until about a year after it was published and realized that it had made its way onto the best-sellers list for 2015. Unlike many others, I went into this book completely blind after hearing such high praise from reviewers and readers alike. Everything about this story is devastating. The story, characters, and, prose have been permanently seared into my mind. Fair warning: This book is not easy to digest. It contains references to self-harm, physical and psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and other triggering subjects.

With all that said, the darkness presented by this story doesn’t make it any less beautiful. Hanya Yanagihara has written a book about life in it’s most raw and unsettling form. This is story about the importance of friendship and how much power it does and doesn’t have. The friendships layered within are steadfast, broken, envious, and above all, honest. I suggest that you read this book slowly because it’s woven together so intricately. It’s a work of art, really. I have heard some readers complain about the sheer size of this book, but I believe that every word has a role, and it all works together to create a story that is utterly poetic. From the first page it’s easy to become enthralled in the story of Jude, Willam, Malcolm, and JB, with the people they meet along the way.

“Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?”

This is not a book you can just pick up and read. It requires your utmost attention and will fold your insides in on themselves, until everything aches. My tears were relentless in their flow and there were moments so relatable that I thought the author had gotten into the deepest parts of my mind somehow. I have never cried so hard in my life. It was constant. –I can’t stop thinking about this novel and it has jumped to my number one spot for favorite books. Although A Little Life is difficult to read and full of strong emotion that forces you to confront all that is ugly in this world, it is exquisite. This character driven novel keeps you invested until the very last word. If you get a chance to read this one, I highly recommend it for those who are ready. Hanya Yanagihara has written a novel so raw and poignant. One that tries hard to discover the good things in life. This novel will stick with me for the rest of my own little life, and makes me want to be a better person. Isn’t that all we can hope for?

“…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”

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Book Reviews, To My Reader

Book Review: Alice by Christina Henry

AlicePublished: August 4th 2015 by Ace.

Format: Kindle Edition, 304 pages.

Goodreads Summary: A mind-bending new novel inspired by the twisted and wondrous works of Lewis Carroll…
In a warren of crumbling buildings and desperate people called the Old City, there stands a hospital with cinderblock walls which echo the screams of the poor souls inside.
In the hospital, there is a woman. Her hair, once blond, hangs in tangles down her back. She doesn’t remember why she’s in such a terrible place. Just a tea party long ago, and long ears, and blood…
Then, one night, a fire at the hospital gives the woman a chance to escape, tumbling out of the hole that imprisoned her, leaving her free to uncover the truth about what happened to her all those years ago.
Only something else has escaped with her. Something dark. Something powerful.
And to find the truth, she will have to track this beast to the very heart of the Old City, where the rabbit waits for his Alice.

Thoughts: Forget everything you know about Lewis Carroll’s beloved childhood story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and prepare to be thrown into a much darker tale that is sure to drive anyone mad. In this retelling Christina Henry has created a new world so disturbing it’s hard to imagine the beauty of the original novel even exists. The author brings back characters we recognize, but fair warning, no one is safe anymore. This is a different story. A very bloody one.

“Alice dreamed of blood. Blood on her hands and under her feet, blood in her mouth and pouring from her eyes. The room was filled with it.”

Wonderland has disappeared under the grime of the Old City where horrors await for the next unfortunate soul. Ever since Alice returned home after going missing at sixteen, covered in scarlet and talking madness about a rabbit, her parents fear she has gone around the bend. Years later, Alice finds herself locked in an asylum with others society has deemed crazy. Her only friend goes by the name of Hatcher. He talks to her through a small mouse-hole from the cell next door and admits he knows little of his past before this place. The only thing he’s sure of is the reality of his nightmares, and the monster at the very center of them. They are presented a chance to escape when the asylum is engulfed in flames, but their suffering is far from over. Something has escaped with them.

Alice and Hatcher are forced to enter the bowels of the Old City, a place ruled by terrifying lords – the Cheshire, the Walrus, the Carpenter, and the Caterpillar. Leaders waged in a war against each other, and it’s no surprise when they take an interest in sweet little Alice. This novel is full of eerie descriptions that will make your hair stand on end. I also want to mention a trigger warning for future readers. This book features scenes of rape and although I understand why such a horrid action was spread throughout the story it can be off-putting to some readers. It is recommended that readers be 18+.

I must say that I absolutely loved Alice by Christina Henry and I can’t wait read more from her. This book was horrifying and fueled by nightmares. I read this book in one sitting! It was that good. A second part to this story called Red Queen will be released sometime next year. Grab your vorpal blade before you get pushed down the rabbit hole again.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon (ARC)

17901125Published: January 27th 2015 by Bloomsbury.

Format: Kindle Edition, 320 pages.

Source: NetGalley.

Goodreads Summary: Paige Mahoney has escaped the brutal prison camp of Sheol I, but her problems have only just begun: many of the survivors are missing and she is the most wanted person in London…

As Scion turns its all-seeing eye on the dreamwalker, the mime-lords and mime-queens of the city’s gangs are invited to a rare meeting of the Unnatural Assembly. Jaxon Hall and his Seven Seals prepare to take centre stage, but there are bitter fault lines running through the clairvoyant community and dark secrets around every corner. Then the Rephaim begin crawling out from the shadows. But where is Warden? Paige must keep moving, from Seven Dials to Grub Street to the secret catacombs of Camden, until the fate of the underworld can be decided.

Thoughts: It’s finally here! I’ve been waiting to read The Bone Season’s sequel for quite a while now. NetGalley was kind enough to give me an Advanced Readers Copy a few months back and I totally freaked out. Back in 2013 I wrote my review for The Bone Season and completely fell in love with the characters and the world. Samantha Shannon, this series just keeps getting better! It was so easy to delve into the world again because the author does a wonderful job quickly restating the plot. Weeks leading up to The Mime Order’s release, the author posted Crash Courses and Refreshers on her blog explaining important aspects of the world and its characters. Click here to read them. They are well written and extremely helpful for those of you who don’t want to re-read the first book before January 27th.

The world building in The Mime Order is well crafted and complex. I really want to visit London now. Now, many critics of the first book said too much information and unfamiliar terminology was introduced all at once. An info dump that made the beginning of the story somewhat difficult to follow. However, this problem completely disappears as the series continues. It’s also important to note that the plot does build up slowly and that can throw some readers off, but trust me when I say that the story will pick up. It’s worth it because the reader gets to learn more about the Criminal Underworld located under Scion and about the power struggle within it. Eventually we get a sense of just how massive this story will be.

To be back in Paige Mahoney’s head is wonderful. Her POV (Point of View) is mesmerizing. She’s clever, quick-witted, serious, flawed, and extremely resilient. In The Bone Season, she’s thrust into a situation she doesn’t want to be in and reading The Mime Order we see growing character development that is far from over. Warden does make an appearance, but due to spoilers I won’t say much except OH MY GOSH! His presence in the story is intoxicating. I’m head over heals. Aside from the two main characters though, it’s refreshing to see a cast of secondary characters who are just as intriguing. Jaxon Hall can be frustrating, but I love him anyway. Others like Zeke, Nick, and Nadine fill the story with incredible dialogue and life. It’s fantastic to read a series where I’m invested in every character. They all add something.

The Mime Order is a stunning sequel that definitely left me yearning for the third book. If you’re looking for a dark, compelling fantasy I highly suggest you pick this one up. The long wait was worth it and I can’t wait to see what else Samantha Shannon has in store. We still have five books left! Thank you to NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Bring on January 27th!

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Book Reviews

Book Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

18081809 Published: July 8th 2014 by St. Martin’s Press.

Format: Hardcover, 310 pages.

Source: Barnes and Noble.

Goodreads Summary: Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.
Maybe that was always besides the point.
Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.
When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.
That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .
Is that what she’s supposed to do?
Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened
?

Thoughts: I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible for me to read a Rainbow Rowell book in more than one sitting. Due to unpopular (or popular) summer sleep habits, I found myself staying up till dawn to finish Landline. Earlier at the beginning of the year I placed this book on my most anticipated books list of 2014.  I don’t mean to wrap this review up with one sentience, but Rowell has delivered yet another story that I surely won’t forget.

I’ll be honest, my heart ached for both Neal and Georgie as their marriage took a turn for the worse. Especially because we only view the story from Georgie’s point of view. It’s never fun reading about an impending divorce. That said, this story won’t be for everyone. It doesn’t help that I developed an attachment very early on for the two main characters and their love story.

My favorite thing about Rainbow Rowell is that she’s able to create such complex and realistic characters. Not only that, but also highlight their flaws and that adds another detention to the story. Somehow Neal’s distant personality balanced with Georgie’s outgoing one, and I thoroughly enjoyed their college flashbacks. Watching their relationship blossom made me absolutely sure that they were meant to be together. Maybe that’s the hopeless romantic in me peeking out.

The old school landline telephone almost seemed to add a mystical element to the story. At first I had a difficult time understanding exactly what was going on, but found it easier to put the pieces together as I kept reading. I promise it all makes sense by the final chapter. Now, this book is technically labeled adult contemporary but Rowell seems to push the envelope and make it her own.

Laneline by Rainbow Rowell shows a raw account of relationships and just how delicate they can be. Even though I am not married or have children of my own, I definitely found myself captivated by this novel and in turn took something from it. Without a doubt this book has been added to my favorites list. Rowell has done it again.

Let me know what you think.

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