Monday, 28 December 2015

Top 5 Favorite Books of 2015

As this year is coming to a close I am faced with yet again another difficult challenge; choosing my top 5 favorite books of the year. To be entirely honest, this was slightly easier this year than last because I am sad to say that I have read a lot of disappointing books in the year of 2015. With that said here are some great books that I've read:

5. Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas

Queen of Shadows moved around a lot on my list but eventually made #5. If you didn't already know, or if you're living under a rock, Queen of Shadows is book #4 in the Throne of Glass series. I've only just started reading this series in the beginning of the year, but it has already become one of my prime favorites in young adult fantasy. If you're looking for assassins, kick-ass heroine, sass, adventure, magic, and intricate world building then Throne of Glass is definitely for you. For such a large book I was able to fly through Queen of Shadows for the fast pace and also the familiarity. The only reason that it wasn't higher on the list, was because some of the relationships seem to develop rather, quickly which I found rather disconcerting.

4. Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

You're probably wondering why this isn't higher on my list and I debated with that too. I adored Mistborn with every fiber of my soul. Brandon Sanderson paints a grim ashen landscape in which lives a street urchin named Vin, who realizes she is a Misborn, a person who when consumes various amounts of metals can exhibit various types of powers. This book is definitely an epic fantasy adventure. I love the magic system of allomancy, the cast of characters, the fight scenes that give me so much anxiety. Brandon Sanderson is a master storyteller and I'm definitely looking forward to picking up the rest of his many novels. I already have started The Well of Ascension, which is book #2 in The Final Empire trilogy and I already can tell it's going to be one of my favorites of 2016 once I get back to it.

3. The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon

*Gasps at self as to why this isn't at the top of my list*

Choosing a top 5 is hard. The Mime Order comes in at #3. Why am I beginning to sound like an award show host. Anyways, if you follow me on Instagram you already know how much I am in love with this series. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, which is book #1 of what is to be a 7 book series, was one of my top reads last year. So much so that I even reread it this year before The Mime Order released. I was beyond excited to finally get this book in my hands. If you don't know what The Bone Season is about, it's honestly nothing like you've ever read before. Set in 2059 alternate London, our main character Paige Mahoney works in crime underworld for clairvoyants. Clairvoyancy has been outlawed and Paige could be killed if her ability as a Dreamwalker is ever discovered. One night she  makes a mistake and ends up kidnapped and where she is taken she soon discovers that her world was more complex than she ever imagined. The Bone Season was such a thrilling read, it was unique, though a little slow in the beginning to get you use to the world and new terms, it soon picks up the pace. The Mime Order was such a fantastic continuation of the developing events of The Bone Season. You definitely get to see Paige grow more as character and see her truly harness her abilities. Samantha Shannon really does a fantastic job of fleshing out her characters and also keeping the world building grounded. Even sitting here now I can still vividly remember the intensity of the Danse Macabre chapter, which is one my most favorite and anxiety inducing book scenes I've read all year.

2. Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

Again if you follow my Instagram it comes at no surprise that this is #2 on my list. The Diviners by Libba Bray is honestly my favorite book of all time. Libba Bray is such an incredible writer. I also read Going Bovine by her this year and truly enjoyed that story as well. For those that don't know, The Diviners is about Evie O'Neill who is a diviner, her ability being that she can read objects which is to say that she can hold an object of a person and see past memories of that person and said object. This of course lands her into trouble and her parents send her away to New York City to go live with her uncle who owns an occult museum. A string a ritualistic murders begin happening around the city and the police seek out her uncle for help and Evie believes that her power can help catch the killer. There's so much more to this story, but with a dazzling and eerie setting of NYC in the 1920s, Libba Bray paints such a realistic atmosphere of not only the glitz but the truly ugly side of the 20s. Lair of Dreams is a continuation of all that and I was not disappointed even when the release date kept being pushed back. The strongest thing to this story are her characters; Evie, Sam, Jericho, Memphis, Theta, Ling, and Mabel are just characters that you can't help, but care for. I feel as if I know and can identify with these characters. Lair of Dreams still had that definite creep factor just as its predecessor, but there is just so much character development and growth in this book. You meet new characters, get more insight on old ones and just love it all the way. Strongly urge you to pick up The Diviners sometime soon. Definitely want to explore her other books in the near future.

1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Favorite book of the year, and one of my favorite books of life. A Little Life mainly focuses on Jude St. Francis, the quiet and mysterious one out of his three friends. It catalogs their life from college well into late adulthood as Yanagihara showcases the trials and tribulations that Jude undergoes as he tries to come to terms with the severe abuse he received as a child. I posted a full review here so you can know my full thoughts, but this is a book that brought me great pain and joy. Just an overall heartbreaking and impactful story that will stay with me for quite sometime. All I can say is to just read it. And get ready to cry a lot.

Honorable Mentions

Here are books that I also really enjoyed, but didn't make it into my top 5 list. In no particular order.

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

This is most likely my #6 choice. Finally got around to reading all the Raven Cycle books this year and truly enjoyed them, which I was surprised because I absolutely hated The Shiver trilogy by this author. I love Blue, Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah and all their friendships and ley lines adventures make me somewhat nostalgic and I wish I could jump inside this book and be apart of that magic.

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

This year I reread Cinder this year I can finally continue on with this series. I managed to continue on with Scarlet, Cress, and then the novella Fairest and really loved them all. Still have yet to read Winter. If you're looking for scifi, adventure, funny and lovable characters then you should definitely give this series a try.

The Winner's Curse & The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski

Reread The Winner's Curse this year so I could finally get around to The Winner's Crime because I have previous forgotten almost everything. Utterly in love with these books, I'm not even big on books that mainly focus on romance, but I can't help but love Arin and Kestrel and root for them the whole way through. The Winner's Curse is about Kestrel, the general's daughter, who one day purchases a slave, Arin at an auction. The more Kestrel begins to spend time around him, the more she begins to fall for him, unbeknownst to her that he harbors a secret, one that can change the course of her life forever. I'm beyond thrilled for The Winner's Kiss to release. Even more thrilled that they decided to keep the hardcover to match the originals. The Winner's Crime was even better than the first. I just wished that these books would have been longer because some of the scenes do seem to happen very quickly.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Another Libba Bray book what a shocker. Even though this won the Printz Award I feel as if this definitely is her most underrated book in the shadow of The Diviners, The Gemma Doyle Trilogy, and Beauty Queens. This book is definite whimsical and wacky and truly played on my mind when I read it. 16 year old Cameron discovers he has mad cow disease, which is a spongy deformation of the brain and spinal cord which causes ataxia, hallucinations, memory loss and eventually death. While in the hospital Cameron gets visited by a punk angel, who he thinks is a hallucination, who then tells him that there is a cure if he looks for it. He then sets off on a adventure with his dwarf friend, a talking lawn-gnome and vague ideas of where to find this cure. This book is definitely weird, trust me it got really weird at times, but I strangely loved it. Libba Bray is such a gifted storyteller and I love the way she can mix so much humor with tragedy and despair of a teenage boy who is just trying to find himself. Would of course recommend Going Bovine, if you're in the mood for a great road trip book.

So many new releases of my favorite books in 2016. Looking forward to a new reading year and to progress forward in these various series. Wishing you a fantastic 2016 reading year.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Review: The Wrath & the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

Title: The Wrath and the Dawn
Author: Renée Ahdieh
Publication Date: May 12th 2015
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Series: Book #1 of The Wrath & the Dawn trilogy

Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis: In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad's dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph's reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she'd imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It's an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid's life as retribution for the many lives he's stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

Inspired by A Thousand and One Nights, The Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and enthralling read from beginning to end.

“What are you doing to me, you plague of a girl?” he whispered.“If I’m a plague, then you should keep your distance, unless you plan on being destroyed.” The weapons still in her grasp, she shoved against his chest.“No.” His hands dropped to her waist. “Destroy me.”

The Wrath and the Dawn essentially starts out as revenge story. Khalid Ibn al-Rashid is a mysterious boy-king who takes up a new wife, only to have her murdered by morning. In one instance the previous victim being the main character's best friend. Fueled by rage and revenge, Shahrzad al-Khayzuran, volunteers to be his new bride, with a set decision to murder him.

Of course, that is not what happens.

Once finishing this novel I've had the eternal struggle on what to rate this book. A part of me wanted to give this book 5 stars and another part of me wanted to give it 3 stars. I settled in middle with a solid four stars.

Let it be known to everyone that there is a GLOSSARY in the back of the novel for all of the uncommon phrases you will come across. I wish someone told me this prior to starting this because it wasn't until the end that I realized it existed. This would have greatly saved me a lot of time of looking them up on google.

I really thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I believe once I switched to my e-book version I was able to fly through this story much quicker. The Wrath and the Dawn is very languid almost sensual read. I really enjoyed the author's writing for the most part, and her prose seem to flow together. I loved the descriptive desert setting. Such a refreshing contrast, as it is rare to find many YA fantasy books set in the Middle East. I really wish I had read One Thousand and One Nights so I could make a just comparison to the actual book and this retelling, but I do plan on reading it sometime in the future.

I really grew to love and care for Shahrzad. She essentially made this story worthwhile. I love how she is a blend of sass, but also quick-witted and perceptive. My only qualm is how quickly her resolve to kill the king vanished. Her plan was never thought out well and see seemed to back out every time she had a perfect opportunity. I love the easiness and fluid way she interacts with the various characters. For some reason I kept picturing her as the talented and gorgeous Tina Desai, who plays who plays Kala Dandekar in the Netflix show Sense8:

(which is a really spectacular show, which you should watch)

It surprised me how much I actually enjoyed Shahrzad and Khalid's relationship. It was strangely fitting and they really seem to compliment each other. I appreciated how Shahrzad could hold her own and she wasn't seen as someone lesser next to the king. I all the more appreciated how Khalid could see this too.
“Get up, Shahrzad al-Khayzuran. You kneel before no one. Least of all me.”
I wish they would have been honest and communicated with each other more, but of course she first saw him with a hateful heart. Their relationship did develop pretty rapidly in the beginning, though it didn't bother me too much because prior to starting this I knew it would be a romance.

It takes a bit to get into, but once I did I was able to fly through this book. I found myself cheering characters aloud, getting visibly frustrated, even being shocked at times. You'll soon find yourself being consumed by the atmosphere as you are pulled into this world.

Though I did have my problems about this novel. It was a compilation of things which led to demotion of one star. The main one being that it felt like the author was trying too hard to absolve Khalid of his guilt and sin. I can tell you now that I particularly did not hate nor love Khalid, I was more indifferent about his character. But it came across as if Shahrzad was all to ready to see him blameless for his actions. Yes he may have had a horrible childhood, and yes we finally do get the truth behind all those merciless killings of those innocent women. But the thing is, it still happened. He still ordered the execution of those girls and that is something that kept running through my mind as I read on. Even though we get the truth and there were points where I actually felt bad for him I couldn't expel the thought from my mind.

It brought me to think about all the fantasy novels I've read where the main characters are murders, assassins, or tyrants of the like. There are many instances where I actually do still like, even love the character after all they did. Do I think Khalid is a truly evil person? No. Do I believe he is a truly good person? No. I believe Khalid Ibn al-Rashid is morally ambiguous, like a lot of people generally are. I just wished Renée Ahdieh focused on that particularly dynamic instead of trying to paint him as a troublesome boy with a troubled past and what happened essentially made him blameless of what transpired him, when that is truly not the case.

Other than that there were smaller things, such as the magic in this book had been explained more, it felt more of something thrown in halfheartedly and made me confused at times. I also wished the characters were more fleshed out and that there was bit more of political aspect to this novel. There is some, but romance is essentially the main focus.

I really loved how reading this in the ungodly hours of the night made me really ponder critically and morally of not only this novel, but many other fantasy novels I have read. It made me think of how I personally justify one character's killing over another's, whether for the greater good, self-preservation, or just sheer selfishness. Maybe it's a question without an answer, literature is always happening and there is a plethora of various situations to enthrall myself in and see my perceptions and variations change and develop.

In all actuality I have no idea where this story is heading and I'm beyond excited to read The Rose and the Dagger once it releases.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Title: A Little Life
Author: Hanya Yanagihara
Publication Date: March 10th, 2015
Publisher: Doubleday

Rating:  5 stars

Synopsis: 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.

❝ You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well. 


That is all I can say after finishing this novel. My mind is in a muddled state of awe and sorrow.

Though this novel does focus partially on each of these four friends, it mainly centers around Jude, the one whose past is quite unknown to those close to him as he prefers to keep the shame and the horror that plagues him in the dark. What made me most inclined to read this novel was due to the constant praise and glorification going around. After I had purchased A Little Life, it soon made the Man Booker Prize long list then shortlist, which made me even more eager to read this. I knew from numerous people that this book was emotionally draining and essentially overall depressing to read. Let me forewarn you that this is not a light novel. At times it can get very dark as Yanagihara displays the unravelment of the human psyche. This book contains dark topics such as self-harm, drug-abuse, sexual abuse, rape, and physical and physiological abuse.

You can't help but feel irrevocably connected to these characters as the novel progresses and become tortured with the events that has happened to them, especially Jude. A Little Life mainly focuses on Jude St. Francis, the quiet and respectful guy who's always kept a distance from his friends. We follow Jude from college to late adulthood as he tries to come to terms and live with the heavy abuse he received as a child. Jude is the kind of person you can't help but fall in love with and feel for. How you are overcome with emotion at the horror of events that happened to someone so deserving of more. Of someone who now  forever has a self-deprecating mindset, who believes he is unworthy of the happiness in his life now due to what he learned as a child. It's heartbreaking to see him afraid to give full trust to anyone because he once had his trust betrayed numerous times over the years.

This is honestly one of the most well written books I've read all year. I rarely say this, but the prose were just downright lyrical at times. I found myself annotating various sentences because I felt it truly captured that moment so well. Yanagihara's writing is also so raw and honest you can't help but become emotional. I loved the way the narrative flowed back and forth from the present to events of the past, flashbacks of childhood memories, and even foreshadowing of future events. This story is so intricate, I suggest you digest it slowly and capture the various links that eventually make itself clear.

❝ Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely? 
❝ Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified.

I loved the friendships in this novel. The honesty, the insecurities, the jealousy all blended together. The friendship between Willem and Jude is so steadfast and all-consuming. I understand why the author decided to focus mainly on this particular friendship and how it develops and reshapes itself in years to come. Willem & Jude have one of those rare, all-consuming bonds that was written out beautifully. I loved fluidity between Willem, JB, Jude, and Malcolm and how they all looked out for each other, even when they weren't speaking. I feel so connected to these characters, it feels like I know them. I can see parts of myself reflected in themselves.

This isn't one of those novels that you just pick up and read, it's one where you have to make time for, and read slowly to fully appreciate her craft. I will say that this was not an easy read for me. Many times I had to place this novel down because it can get overwhelming. There are parts where you laugh, parts where you cry (a large majority of the book) parts where you're so livid you want to throw the book (trust me I wanted to at times) but is all essential to the development of this novel. A Little Life isn't just a depressing book, there are beautiful bursts of moments where you feel unexplainable joy for these characters, whenever something works out for them. I love whenever a book can make me feel such strong emotion, but also is poignant and makes me want to better myself as a person.

This is one of those novels that still holds you long after you've turned the last page. I'll forever carry the memories of these characters in my mind. This is most likely the best book I've read all year and I cannot recommend it enough. I understand why some people may not want to read this as it can be triggering, but if you're interested please do give this book a try. There may be devastation and raw ugliness, but beauty in life and the friendships that are eternal, which is the best as well.

❝ 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.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

November Wrap Up

The month of November has flown by. I'm still immensely missing the vibrancy of the trees' leaves and the cool autumnal breeze. My November TBR initially consisted of five books:

  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
  • Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
  • The Girl At Midnight by Melissa Grey
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
I never ended up reading An Abundance of Katherines, which was a read for my school book club, because it just didn't appeal to me. So my total books read in November was three; The Girl At Midnight, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and Passenger. I'm currently 54% of the was through A Little Life, (which I'm currently reading and loving) but have yet to finish it which is why it isn't included in this wrap-up.

1. The Girl At Midnight by Melissa Grey

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2 stars
This was the first book I read this month and I was quite eager to read this due to its gorgeous cover and intriguing synopsis, but sadly was completely disappointed by it. I have a full review on why I immensely disliked this book. This is an urban fantasy novel set in New York City that follows Echo, a runaway pickpocket, who is taken in by the ancient bird like race Avicen, who are at war with Drakharin, who are descendants of dragons. Echo has set off to find the Firebird, something that has been lost for centuries, but if found has the potential to stop the war. I wish I could have enjoyed this novel more, but the writing felt very cliche and the overall plot was really choppy to read. Not to mention that there were too many parallels to Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke & Bone.

2. Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Rating: ★★★★★ 5 stars
This book definitely brought me out of my reading slump. Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the third book in Maggie Stiefvater's Raven Cycle quartet, with the first book being The Raven Boys. I read the first two books in the beginning of the year and also started this, but I out it down for some reason and never got back to it. I decided to pick it back in November and immediately fell in love with it. The Raven Boys is essentially about Blue Sargent, daughter of  psychic who befriends a group of boys from a nearby prep school and soon becomes entangled in their quest to find a lost king. Not only is the plot of this novel spectacular, but what really sold me are the characters. I love reading about Blue, Gansey, Noah, Ronan, and Adam. All these characters are individually so well developed and their interactions with each other feel genuine which is all the more endearing. The third book definitely did not disappoint and I am overly excited for The Raven King.

3. Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 3 stars
The final book I completed this month was Passenger by Alexandra Bracken. I was very eager to read this novel when I received the arc back in October. After completing this book I gave it three stars because I just found this book to be okay. Passenger is the story of Etta Spencer a violin prodigy, who inherits her mother's ability to travel through time. Nicholas Carter, another traveler who only wants to finish cutting his ties from a powerful travelling family sets off with Etta in search of a powerful object that could change the game of travelling, and help her get back home. I went into this with previously loving Bracken's Darkest Minds trilogy, but this wasn't the case with this novel. I adore the concept and some of the characters, but I didn't feel an exact connection to this novel and it did seem to get a bit insta-lovey near the end. Overall I enjoyed the story even though it seemed to drag in parts and feel rushed in others. I still will be reading the next book in this duology, Wafarer, when it releases. Full review of Passenger here. This book releases January 5th, 2016.

My reading month in November was pretty much all over the place, but I'm glad that I managed to get more reading done, which has been hard since school started. Looking forward to whatever December brings.

I recently uploaded a November favorites playlist on 8 tracks, which you can listen to here. It's essentially a compilation of all my favorite songs I've been listening to in the month of November, a majority which I listen to while reading. Will be uploading more book playlists on there soon.