Over the past couple of years, I have documented every film that I have watched and reviewed them all using Letterboxd.
As a way to motivate myself to read more, I thought I would do the same for what books I have been reading, using Goodreads as a way to set myself a reading challenge.
So, this year I set myself a challenge of reading 18 books, and for the first time since doing so, I have managed to exceed my target, hooray!
Here’s how my 2016 challenge went, with a short review and rating for each of the books:
1. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
The first chapter (the longest chapter in the book), at least, is incredible. This opening section details Cassie’s present-day situation by giving us some background information about her life, moving on to when the alien invasion began. Detailing the first four waves, as Cassie writes in her diary from the present day whilst on her own and on the run, this first chapter really draws you in. The premise is clever, the story feels original, and as Cassie describes her mother dying and how she came to be on her own, it’s even quite emotional.
At this point, her high school romance is presumed dead, and, if you’re like me (tired of sucky love triangles getting in the way of a good dystopia!) you think, “What a great start, at least this boy she’s swooning over won’t get in the way of some good action!”. But it doesn’t last long. As Cassie’s story catches up with her into the present day and she finds a companion on the open road, you know the greatness isn’t going to continue for much longer.
2. Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone is nostalgic, imaginative, and it’s filled with atmosphere; the precise definition of what a children’s fantasy should be. The story has a bit of everything; there are friendships, rivalries, quests, magic, jokes, scares, and even a game of wizarding sport. The characters are engaging and likeable, but most of all they’re fun, courageous, and adventurous. It’s such a gripping and comforting read that Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone has become a book that we will pass on to our future generations with pure excitement at the thought of somebody discovering this world for themselves for the first time.
At this point in Rowling’s series, the plot is quite simple, making for a very light read and, as a piece of literature, it isn’t close to being technically revolutionary. But it’s rare that a story does what Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone does to a reader. Sure, as the series continues the stories get more complex, and Rowling’s writing becomes a lot more profound, but this is where it all began, and the book conjures such fantastic feelings that there’s no wonder that millions of people fell in love with Harry Potter.
3. The Divergent Series: Allegiant by Veronica Roth
The book starts off with an epigraph from the Erudite faction manifesto: “Every question that can be answered must be answered or at least engaged. Illogical thought processes must be challenged when they arise.” Roth obviously had this intention in mind for her final book, but it quickly becomes apparent that Allegiant wasn’t going to provide all of the answers to the questions that we were deeply craving.
Allegiant does well to tie up some of the loose ends that the previous instalments have opened up, but there’s so much left to explore and to be resolved by the end that it feels like a whole book has been missed out. From the beginning, there is so little focus on what’s going on inside the wall between the factions and factionless, that what’s most important is quickly forgotten. With the group venturing outside of the wall quite early on, we miss out on the real story and only hear snippets of what’s going on from what’s available at the Bureau. And then when it’s about to get good, Four quickly convinces his mother otherwise and we skip over how the only characters we really care about find their resolutions.
4. High-Rise by J.G. Ballard
Review to come.
Review to come.
Review to come.
Review to come.
Review to come.
5. The Death And Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood
The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud is a romantic and exhilarating book that follows the journey from death to life. Set against a background of bereavement and grief, there are many conversations about what happens to us after we die, exploring the different ways that these characters have learnt how to move on from the loss of somebody close, and at the conflict of holding on and letting go.
As much of a fantasy as it is a romance, The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud isn’t your typical love story. When Charlie meets Tess, their relationship develops with Charlie’s struggle to choose life over holding onto a memory. With the unusual premise in which they meet, there’s a very supernatural feeling to the story, making their romance all the more powerful.
6. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Station Eleven is unlike anything I have ever read before. The early descriptions of a snowy night when the world is beginning to collapse after a mysterious flu has become a full-blown pandemic intrigued me instantly. But what follows isn’t just a post-apocalyptic adventure, it’s a real voyage with struggles that are far beyond survival.
Although Station Eleven is about a desolate landscape after a world-wide catastrophe as we follow a number of characters who roam the wastelands and risk everything for humanity, it is in no way like anything that you will have read before. What’s so unique about this book is the focus of arts and theatre, as we follow a performing troupe known as the Traveling Symphony. Technology may not have survived the plague, but Shakespeare certainly did.
7. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Lovely Bones is a chilling and haunting story, but it’s also an uplifting tale of acceptance and redemption. Susie is a beautifully created character full of optimism and hope and, as she experiences longings for the everyday things she can no longer do, it’s easy to find yourself drawn in by her character.
The story doesn’t work as a mystery, since we are detailed the crime as it happens, but it certainly has the feel of a thriller. With Susie narrating from heaven, we know who the monster is, but we are but spectators unable to do anything to help the other characters. and it is their struggles that we share.
As the police end their investigation into finding Susie’s killer, her father becomes filled with guilt and starts to obsess over trying to find the answers. Susie tries to help her father from heaven, but only tears her family apart more. Now, she must choose between her desire for vengeance or for letting her family heal and move on with their lives.
8. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Daphne Du Maurier‘s Rebecca is my number one favourite book of all time. Beautifully written, the story is centred on two of the most humanly complex characters ever written, begins with one of the most memorable opening lines in literature, and ends with an intensely powerful image.
Told in a first-person narrative, the story is told in the form of a flashback as the narrator retells her story of overcoming personal insecurities, discovering one’s identity amid social pressures and expectations, and what the meaning of true love really entails.
Looking back at her time at the beautiful mansion that is Manderley, we’re told that something drastic has happened as the narrator comments that she and her husband can never go back. But what? As she goes on to detail what is primarily a love story, as a reader you find yourself impatiently waiting for something to go wrong.
9. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Me Before You is a story impossible not to fall in love with. The characters are so beautifully crafted that I cried more than once reading about how their relationship progressed. Even before there’s any inclination of romantic feelings from either character, it’s obvious that they have a deep connection, and their emotions are explored so well that you can really get inside both of their minds.
Me Before You isn’t a young adult book, but it does share similar themes. Maybe it’s because the relationship is so unlikely and the romance is so ambitious, but the story does have a feel of fantasy to it, even if the characters’ struggles are realistic and insightful. That being said, it’s incredibly easy to engage with, which is why the two lead characters are such a joy to follow.
10. All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
All The Bright Places is a brilliantly developed story and its themes are set up incredibly well. It’s a book that makes you both think and feel, and even though it is a young adult story led by high school-aged characters, it’s still a story that sparks a reaction.
Alternating between chapters narrated by Finch and Violet, you really get to see inside these characters’ young minds. The book does an amazing job of exploring the thoughts of these characters who each have a lot to deal with, showing two contrasting sides to how the mind can work – the light in the world through Violet’s progressions, but also the dark times through Finch’s continuous struggles.
11. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
I read this book in one sitting on my summer holiday. It’s a short and sweet romance with likeable characters, a quick-paced adventure, and an original twist on your generic boy-meets-girl.
The story is quite predictable but it’s still intriguing and enjoyable due to its short length. It’s definitely a young adult romance so I certainly felt my age with it, but Maddy and Olly are both engaging characters and their romance is bittersweet. For younger readers especially, the romance will also be one to swoon over and Olly a character to daydream about hoping to find for yourself one day. I’ve definitely outgrown that, but I do still think that Yoon captures the feelings of a first-time romance in a really lovely way.
12. The Missing by C.L. Taylor
The Missing is admittedly a very easy read, but Taylor uses such brilliant detail that she still manages to create a rich mystery that has obviously been well researched. The flow of the story is maintained perfectly, never slowing down and always keeping you guessing. You are made to re-evaluate everything that you thought you knew as there are so many lies between this dysfunctional family that the story will make you question every single person.
Not only does Taylor explore the family dynamics with a great depth, but she also brilliantly captures the emotions of a stressed, desperate mother who is in a state of limbo, as Claire tries to hold on to the hope that her missing son is still alive. She is an easy character to emphasise with and leads this thriller fantastically. As Claire persuades you to believe in her mother’s instincts, her hope also influences which other characters you trust.
13. Harry Potter And The Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany
Review to come.
Review to come.
Review to come.
Review to come.
Review to come.
14. Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a book that you will want to read as soon as you have picked it up off of the shelf. With a beautiful production of its ghostly front cover and the use of high-quality photographs scattered inside, the whole look and feel of this book makes you want to jump into this intriguing world of peculiarity straight away. Even minutes after buying this book I found myself hooked and not wanting to put it down, restless to dive in as soon as I could to find out what these disturbingly creepy pictures were all about.
Combining real-life vintage photographs, taken from various personal collections, with a complex and well-developed fictional story, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an incredibly unique and intriguing read. For a young adult book, this is one of the most mature stories I have experienced in a long while. Whilst this fantasy is based around a group of children, there are many adult themes and a dark tone that runs throughout, ensuring that older readers will be just as invested from start to finish.
15. The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins
Told in a first-person narrative from the point of view of three women – Rachel, Anna and Megan – The Girl On The Train constantly shifts perspectives as well as between timescales, jumping from after the murder to weeks before, slowly revealing the truth about the lives of these three women and the connection that they each have.
Rachel is our main narrator but, an alcoholic prone to blackouts, she’s an unreliable source so we never know whether to believe her or not. A broken, self-pitying character, Rachel once had everything but has since lost her home, job, the dream of motherhood, and her self-respect. She now relies on a can of gin and tonic or two on her way home from work and has become naive and insecure, holding on to the smallest glitches of attention and hope, as she lives in a world of fantasy to escape the harsh realities that face her.
16. Story Of Your Life by Ted Chiang
Story Of Your Life is a short story like no other. You may think that you know what to expect from a science fiction novella set during an alien invasion like this, but you would be wrong. Instead, this short story is a joyous treat to read, filled with thought-provoking ideas beyond its short length and minimal premise.
Although Story Of Your Life and its upcoming film adaptation Arrival will be known for being a story about aliens, its science fiction setting is merely a background to something much bigger. We don’t know much about how or why these aliens have invaded Earth, nor do we know anything about their subsequent departure but, instead, Chiang uses their ‘arrival’ as a means to look at how we evaluate our own lives and being.
17. The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey
We all love zombie films and stories, but handling the genre successfully is another matter. It’s hard to find a new spin on such popular genres these days when premises around zombies, vampires, and dystopian futures (to name a few) are so largely recycled. But that’s exactly what The Girl with All the Gifts manages to do.
Quite ambiguous in its premise at the start, it takes the story a while to open up for us to really understand what kind of future we are a part of and whose side we should be taking. What The Girl with All the Gifts does differently is that we don’t know whether our central character is a protagonist or antagonist, and the world could very easily come to an end at any point.
18. The Hogwarts Library: Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them by J.K. Rowling
With the recent release of the Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, every Harry Potter fan will want this encyclopedia of magical beasts. Written by Newt Scamander himself, the book is an A-Z of various animals and creatures, some of which we have now seen in the many film adaptations.
There aren’t any illustrations, which is a shame, but the book does include notes and annotations from Harry and Ron which are quite funny. Still, it would be great for a later edition to add some sketches of these monsters to complement the detailed descriptions of all of these imaginary beasts.
19. The Hogwarts Library: The Tales Of Beedle The Bard by J.K. Rowling
After watching Part 1 of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, there’s no doubt that you will be eager to own your own copy of The Tales Of Beedle The Bard to read The Tale of the Three Brothers for yourself.
Along with a number of other fables, this collection of short stories is absolutely beautiful. Every story is one that I could read again, and they all fit into the Harry Potter world brilliantly, capturing that magical although somewhat dark tone perfectly.
I would happily own a copy of this book on its own to read to my little boy before bed, it’s that magnificently mystical.
20. The Hogwarts Library: Quidditch Through The Years by J.K. Rowling
If there’s one thing we want to learn more about in the Harry Potter world, it’s the evolution of Quidditch.
Detailing the history and influences of the game, explaining where the Golden Snitch came from, how the Bludgers came into existence, and bringing it into the present day with the different teams, robes and world games, this book brilliantly showcases Rowling’s love for detail.
It’s no wonder this is the most checked-out book in the Hogwarts Library.
21. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
Written 30 years ago now, Diana Wynne Jones creates an old-fashioned kind of fantasy full of adventure. With wizards, demons, magic spells, and moving castles, Howl’s Moving Castle is an original and imaginative story that certainly takes you on a journey or two.
Whilst not a familiar fairy tale, the story of Sophie and Howl very much feels like one at times with its emphasis on morals and exploration of relationships but, on the other hand, it also feels much more adult, being filled with a lot of humour, brilliantly complex characters, and many secrets to be revealed.
22. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Told in the first person by Patrick Bateman, American Pyscho is a detailed narrative account of the repetitiveness of everyday life – from getting dressed in the morning to going to work, to eating out and aimlessly getting through they year – combined with intensely detailed scenes of sex, torture, and murder.
Beginning as a repetitive sequence of Bateman’s outings with his colleagues at new and ‘hip’ restaurants and clubs, meeting ‘hard body’ girls, snorting coke in the toilets, talking about designer clothes and the celebrities they bump into, returning to work the next day only to see who can afford the better-designed business card, we are soon interrupted by episodes of psychopathic violence.
23. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
An emotional tale with a huge heart, Patrick Ness‘ story is a gothic folktale about hope, processing loss, and letting go, transforming a difficult subject into one of strength and bravery.
It’s the kind of story you can read into as deeply as you feel comfortable to; one that younger readers will find more and more meaning in as they grow older. Although the book is an easy read and quite simple in prose, it reads so poetically that you can swiftly read through it in one sitting. And whilst its story-telling methods are basic, it’s messages deep down are complex and it is filled to the brim with beautifully descriptive imagery.