Rachel’s Top 5 Books Read in 2014

Okay so I know it’s October, but I have to give you guys something to read while I work on A Clash of Kings, right?  So here are the top ten books I reviewed this year!

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1. The Unbecoming/Evolution of Mara Dyer – This one is a twofer, as it’s two books in a series.  Part psychological thriller, part paranormal, and part romance, this series has a little bit of everything.  The narrator is fairly unreliable and the plot thickens with every page.  Highly recommended if you are looking for a fast paced roller coaster ride.

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2. A Game of Thrones – Fantasy at it’s best!  Thick with family drama and epic world building, I have been sucked in to Westeros and don’t plan on leaving any time soon.  If you’ve seen the show on HBO, I can tell you that even though you may know what lies ahead, you will not be disappointed by reading the books as well.  GRRM is a highly detailed writer, but still manages to keep you from getting bored.  They might be long novels, but so so worth it.

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3. Gone Girl –  A book full of horrible people.  As a reader you won’t know who is guilty or innocent or whose side you are supposed to be one, because nobody is truly the “good guy”.  There is no hopeful message or happy ending here, but if you are looking for a book that will keep you guessing until the very last page this is the one that you want.

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4. If I Stay – Looking for something with all of the feels?  This is it.  Gayle Forman is a wonderful writer, who brings life into this story about a girl who is in a coma. This book asks some big questions – can a person in a coma hear us?  What is going on in their head while we are out here?  And most of all, do you have a choice if you live or die? Make sure you have some tissues handy for those last few chapters because you will need them.

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5. The Magician’s Land – A fitting end to Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy. This is probably one of my favorite series’ next to Harry Potter.  A more adult and American twist on the magic school theme, that plays with common tropes and fairy tales.  You’ll find bits and pieces of your favorite stories throughout the pages, but that is part of it’s charm.  You can tell that Grossman truly loves the worlds of Narnia and Hogwarts, and he’s asking the question – what if magic was real in today’s world?  Highly recommended!

There you have it!  What was your favorite book that you read this year?

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Book Review: Gone Girl

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*Blows off dusty blog* Sorry for my absence lately… just going through one of those times where nothing is sticking as far as books go.  But, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, as always! I saw the trailer for Gone Girl and decided I needed to read the book.

Whodunit’s are not usually my cup of tea – but Gone Girl, is definitely outside the box of a normal mystery.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? (Goodreads)

Nick is our narrator, and for lack of a better term he is an absolute piece of shit. Selfish, dishonest, unbearably needy and at the same time incredibly emotionally retarded. The whole time, I was practically begging Nick to just be honest – he makes the entire situation worse for himself if he is innocent because he just refuses to tell the whole story, or the truth.  About the most inane stuff too – his inability to admit even the slightest indiscretion, or the fact that no, his marriage was indeed not perfect and he and Amy fought like rabid animals at times is just inexcusable.  I hate him.  Truly.

The narrative is broken up by diary entries, and later, the narrative from the missing wife, Amy.  Who is equally selfish and evasive and full of lies.  They both have been playing the same game with each other, trying to get the other one to read their mind and it has left them separated emotionally and eventually – physically.  Amy disappears one morning and Nick has no idea (or does he?) where she has gone, who has taken her, if she is even alive.

The thing about this book is that I kept thinking I had it figured out, and then BAM! another lie is revealed on either Nick or Amy’s end and everything is turned on its head again. I mean seriously we are talking a serious stack of lies here. Bigger than a stack.  What kind of people keep this much of themselves from each other? How can they live like this – two boiling kettles threatening to whistle but not actually doing it?  It’s infuriating.

Again and again, author Gillian Flynn plays on the readers ability to fill in the blanks, to make assumptions.  She knows that you will assume that the words on the page are absolutes.  Amy’s diary entries are fact.  Nick’s internal monologue is fact.  What a clever, clever writer Flynn is – to know what us readers will put together in our minds, trying to solve the mystery before the answers are revealed.  And how wrong we are! I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but this novel very quickly flips on its head.  And you are left both rushing to finish it out of the need to know what happens, and rushing to finish because you’re hoping that somewhere along the line there is justice! The next thing you know there are only 50 pages left and how could she possibly wrap this up in only 50 pages?!

Then…inexplicably…it’s over. I’m left feeling like every single person in this book is a lunatic.  A horrible, sad, lunatic.  Literally, my mouth was agape and the end.  Like…really?  Seriously? The entire book you are left guessing, who is really the bad guy, who is going to get their vengeance and the answer? Nobody.  Literally nobody.  I don’t want to ruin it for you guys if you haven’t read it, but the end was just one big WTF. Well, at least it got me out of my stand-still.

My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.93 Stars
Number of 1-star Reviews: 15,128

My Rating on Bookdigits

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Book Review: The Magician’s Land

This review may contain spoilers for The Magician’s and The Magician King.
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The stunning conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Magicians trilogy

Quentin Coldwater has lost everything. He has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams that he once ruled. Everything he had fought so hard for, not to mention his closest friends, is sealed away in a land Quentin may never again visit. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him.

Meanwhile, the magical barriers that keep Fillory safe are failing, and barbarians from the north have invaded. Eliot and Janet, the rulers of Fillory, embark on a final quest to save their beloved world, only to discover a situation far more complex—and far more dire—than anyone had envisioned.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young magician with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. His new life takes him back to old haunts, like Antarctica and the Neitherlands, and old friends he thought were lost forever.

He uncovers buried secrets and hidden evils and ultimately the key to a sorcerous masterwork, a spell that could create a magical utopia. But all roads lead back to Fillory, where Quentin must face his fears and put things right or die trying.

The Magician’s Land is an intricate and fantastical thriller, and an epic of love and redemption that brings the Magicians trilogy to a magnificent conclusion, confirming it as one of the great achievements in modern fantasy. It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole. (Goodreads)

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting when I first dived into The Magicians Land.  Certainly not what I was presented, in a good way.  I feel simultaneously surprised and pleased, and just a teensy bit annoyed (I’m looking at you, Alice).  Critics of Grossman’s trilogy have often said that he borrows from other fantasies – Narnia, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings – but I’d argue (and so would Grossman) that it’s kind of the point. Grossman creates an interesting dialogue that us fantasy fans can really relate to  – what would happen if that other world, that secret door, that magical pathway was real. Would it be everything the books have made it out to be?  Or would there be some hidden darkness beneath the surface?  Would it live up to our expectations?

I really enjoyed the ride of this novel – we go back and forth between a few places and perspectives.  Quentin is now 30, and has gone back to Brakebills and accepted a teaching position as well as taking on a rather strange and confusing project of his own.  Eliot, Janet and Josh are still in Fillory, which is falling apart and they are trying to keep it from doing so.  And then we have Plum, one of Quentin’s students who is rather full of herself and her abilities.  Believe it or not, all of their paths will collide – and include even more people beyond that.

One thing that I love about Grossman’s books is his idea of magic.  Magic in his books is dark, it is complicated, it is mathematical and varied.  It’s a lot more than waving a wand and saying an incantation.  Frankly, Grossman’s brand of magic makes my brain hurt, and that is part of its charm.  It adds to the idea that magic is something special and unique.

There were a few things that I didn’t like, which is why I only gave the novel 4 stars.  It felt really rushed, things happen very fast in Grossman’s books and I do wish that he would slow it down at times, especially during climactic points. I don’t need a 700 page book by any means, but there a certain points within the novel where I wished I could have spent a little more time (for example, Janet’s hippogriff ride over a dying Fillory).  It feels like things are happening in fast forward, it’s almost like if you were to read it out loud you would have to read at top speed. Another thing that bothered me was Alice.  SPOILERS: Okay so in book 1 Quentin and Alice have their thing and it gets all messed up (because they are both idiots) and Alice turns into a Niffin. Great, goodbye Alice.  I never liked her anyway – she was selfish and depressed.  But not the kind of depressed you feel bad for because she was perfectly capable of changing it, she just refused to.  Whatever, we don’t really see her in book 2 and Quentin is forced to accept that she is gone forever.  Or not, because Grossman brings her back once again.  And it doesn’t turn out well, obviously.  Imagine that.  It just didn’t seem fair or necessary to do that to Quentin.  the poor guy finally made some personal progress, and Alice drops in and is just like “hey, let me stir some shit up.”  I really hate her.

All in all, it was a nicely wrapped ending to the series.  I don’t feel as a let down or pissed off as I did when I finished The Magician King, but part of that was because at the time it was not known that there would be a third installment and the ending was just not right at all.  I can finally say that I’m perfectly content leaving behind Brakebills, Fillory and the Neitherlands and I feel some satisfaction that Quentin finally feels like he is home.

My Goodreads Rating: 4 Stars
Average Goodreads Rating: 4.29 Stars
Number of 1-Star Reviews: 25

My Review on Bookdigits

Blog Updates!

You may have noticed (or not if you use WordPress reader) that I changed my theme…again.  Also you’ll notice the retractable sidebar on your left – just click those three little lines at the top! Fancy, eh? Anyway, there you will find links to all of my social networks so feel free to follow ALL OF THE THINGS! 

I’ll be on vacation next week in Tennessee so you probably won’t be seeing any posts from me until I get home – but I hope to have a review (or two) ready for you when I get back!

Happy Reading!

 

Book Review: If I Stay

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The critically acclaimed, bestselling novel from Gayle Forman, author of Where She Went, Just One Day, and the forthcoming Just One Year.

On a day that started like any other,

Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, admiring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. In an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left. It is the most important decision she’ll ever make.

Simultaneously tragic and hopeful, this is a romantic, riveting, and ultimately uplifting story about memory, music, living, dying, loving. (Goodreads)

After a longer read like Dreams of Gods and Monsters, which took me over 2 weeks to read,  I like to take a break and read something a little easier on the eyes. By this, I guess I also mean something that makes me cry because that is what happened when I read the entirety of If I Stay  in one evening.  I guess you could say it’s a typical YA romance, but it’s also a lot more than that.  The novel poses some interesting questions – do patients in critical care hear us when we talk to them, feel us when we touch them, and most importantly, can they choose to stay or move forward into death?  

It’s interesting to get the story through Mia’s eyes as she watches her family mourn the loss of her parents and brother, while trying to hold on to some hope that Mia won’t leave them too.  There are many, many heartbreaking moments – and without spoiling it let me just say that Mia is a lucky girl.  She has some truly incredible people around her from her grandparents to her best friend Kim, and her boyfriend Adam.  Oh, Adam.  My poor heart just broke into pieces for him.  

What’s really wonderful about Gayle Forman’s book is that the relationship between Mia and Adam is not really at the forefront.  We don’t see them fall in love in real time – rather when the book begins they have already been dating for a year or so and have quite a lovely, comfortable relationship.  Mia’s parents like Adam, and that’s awesome because he kind of carries that vibe that most parents would want their daughters to stay away from.  But Mia’s parents are like the uber-cool of parents – they both have punk rock pasts so I think that they understand Adam and they clearly see that he is head over heels for their sweet Mia (or as her dad calls her Mia Oh-My-Uh… be still, my heart!).

Mia takes us on a journey through her life as she tries to figure out if she should stay or go.  We learn that her parents did not plan her or her little brother and their lives were unexpectedly and irrevocably changed (in good ways) by having children. We learn how Mia was drawn to play Cello for reasons not completely understood by anyone – but she excelled and got an audition and Julliard.  She tells us how she made a best friend, got a boyfriend without even knowing she wanted one and how each of these relationships shaped her, confused her and filled her heart.  Her journey kind of begs the question – she didn’t ask for any of this, but who would she be without it?

While the writing is not what I would call the best, I don’t think this book needs it and why it got a 4 star rating instead of 5.  This story does not require complicated sentences or symbols – it’s enough to have that question itching at the back of your mind.  What if?  If I stay – what then?  If I go on – what then?  And the END, the end will make you cry tears of joy and anger  – both because it ends to soon and because the end is so damn perfect. It will leave you with more questions than answers, but it a really, really good way. 

My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars
Average Goodreads Rating: 3.99 Stars
Number of 1-star Reviews: 1954

My Review on Bookdigits

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Book Review: Dreams of Gods and Monsters

Warning: This blog post may contain spoilers for Daughter of Smoke and Bone AND Days of Blood and Starlight. 

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By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her, if there can even be a future for the chimaera in war-ravaged Eretz.

Common enemy, common cause.

When Jael’s brutal seraph army trespasses into the human world, the unthinkable becomes essential, and Karou and Akiva must ally their enemy armies against the threat. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people.

And, perhaps, for themselves. Toward a new way of living, and maybe even love.

But there are bigger threats than Jael in the offing. A vicious queen is hunting Akiva, and, in the skies of Eretz … something is happening. Massive stains are spreading like bruises from horizon to horizon; the great winged stormhunters are gathering as if summoned, ceaselessly circling, and a deep sense of wrong pervades the world.

What power can bruise the sky?

From the streets of Rome to the caves of the Kirin and beyond, humans, chimaera and seraphim will fight, strive, love, and die in an epic theater that transcends good and evil, right and wrong, friend and enemy.

At the very barriers of space and time, what do gods and monsters dream of? And does anything else matter? (Goodreads)

Y’all, Laini Taylor is evil. EVIL.  This masterful conclusion in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series is legit.  Taylor has a way of getting you so close, so VERY close to what the characters desire and then ripping it from your fingertips – again and again and again. GAH

Dreams of Gods and Monsterspicks up right where we left off, Karou and Akiva may actually be on the path that they have hoped for not only allowing them to be together, but perhaps starting their worlds on a path to reconciliation and eventually, cooperation.  However, a lot stands in their way. Not only the evil Seraph emperor Jael, but some forces unknown to them.  There is Eliza – a young doctorate student studying butterflies, who has a secret past that causes her to suffer from nightmares.  Then there is the Stelians – they have some secrets of their own.  I don’t want to give too much away for those who haven’t read the series but Taylor has to tie up A LOT of loose ends here and she does so with gusto.

The question becomes, even if Karou and Akiva are able to convince the Seraphs and Chimaera to tolerate each other, does that lead them to a future where they can be together?  At many points their hope is once again slipping through their fingers and they are continuously dragged off in different directions.  There are some seriously steamy passages sprinkled throughout and that’s not just because Akiva’s wings are made of fire.

Still looking at her with that half-hesitant intensity, Akiva reached out very slowly, and, with on fingertip light against her cheek, hooked a loose strand of her hair and pushed it behind her ear. The tiny touch sparked and blazed, but the spark and blaze were subsumed by a deeper, fuller fire when he brought the whole of his palm against her cheek. His gaze was vivid, hopeful, and searching, and the touch was whisper light, and it was…a taste of the cake Karou couldn’t have. It was more than a taunt. It was torment. She wanted to turn her face and press her lips to Akiva’s palm, and then is wrist, to follow the path of his pulse to its source.

It’s definitely a complicated novel – the only complaint I have is that maybe we are given too much information and it’s an awful lot to take in.  There is so much more to this universe then we experience in the first two novels.  So much beyond Eretz and Loramendi and Earth.  However, Taylor gives us these worlds with great skill – none of them are lacking in history or description and they all have a deep significance, it’s not as if the information is useless and no wonder the book is over 600 pages.

One thing that I absolutely love about Taylor’s style is the way that she entwines both light and dark.  There are many moments threatening to bring you to tears, but she effortlessly and lightheartedly turns them into laughter.  Karou’s BFF Zuzanna is probably my favorite character – her sarcasm and unending optimism is the sunlight through the Karou’s dark clouds. And her love story with Mik is pure and creates a nice balance between that of Karou and Akiva.

If you haven’t read this series and you are craving a good fantasy, a good love story, a good adventure – this is your series. It’s one that I am sure I’ll be coming back to over the years.

My Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

Average Goodreads Rating: 4.30 Stars

Number of 1-star Reviews: 75

My Review on Bookdigits

Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” Coming to SyFy!

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It’s finally happening! Lev Grossman’s book, The Magicians, will hopefully be coming to the SyFy channel.  And they are already picking out their dream cast.  They did pretty darn well in my opinion. Particularly nailed Quentin, Josh and Julia. 

I think that this book will work really well as a television series – and though no word yet on when it may air, I am tingling with excitement at the chance to see one of my favorites come to the screen. If you haven’t yet read the books, I encourage you to do so now!  Some might say “Harry Potter for adults”, but that really minimizes the impact of these novels.  Grossman plays with fantasy tropes in a way that is clever and hard-edged, and his characters are gritty and authentic.  

I know I’ll be watching, will you?