This topic is pretty open for interpretation, and my list incorporates a variety of reasons to be thankful for. There are so many books that could be included on this list, but I’ve listed the ones that came to me first, that were my instinctive choices. T5W is a group hosted on Goodreads, if you’d like to participate check it out here.
The Dragonlance Chronicles: Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
This book series really increased my love of fantasy even more, and provided one of the biggest inspirations and fuels for my forays into fantasy writing. I loved the world and the characters (and of course – dragons). I just fell in love with the story and characters. It’s been a while since they read them actually so I really ought to re-read them and remind myself why I love fantasy so much.
Ombria in Shadow by Patricia McKillip
Ombria in Shadow was so different to other fantasy books I had read; it really opened my eyes to what fantasy could be. That it could be lyrical and mysterious, not just epic. This was the first book by McKillip I read and I fell in love with her writing style immediately. It was instantly my favourite book. She’s also one of my favourite authors and I’ve loved other books by her as well.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I know, such an obvious choice, but I really can’t imagine life without the Hunger Games books. I could read them again and again because they’re so thought provoking but also totally engaging. Each one in the trilogy is brilliant and hard-hitting for different reasons. I’ve chosen the first book for this list, as this is where it all started, and the rest of the series wouldn’t have existed without it.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Some books just stick with you and this is one of them. A real eye-opener. I found listening to Hannah’s tapes through Clay an interesting narrative choice and one which really worked for the story Asher was telling. It was haunting to read. There’s some important messaged in this book.
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
This was a hard book for me. I struggled to get through it. It was painful to read. But it was the most amazing book. An element of it hit really close to home, and I found it quite upsetting to read, but I feel like I came out stronger on the other side.
Changeling by Philippa Gregory
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Publishing Info: 2013 by Simon and Schuster (first published 2012)
Star Rating: 2/5
Back Cover Summary:
In 1453, seventeen-year-old Luca Vero, accused of heresy and expelled from his monastery, is recruited to help investigate evil across Europe but frees his first subject, Isolde, from captivity in a nunnery, and together they seek the one who defends the boundaries of Christendom and holds the secrets of the Order of Darkness.
Philippa Gregory is such a well known name in the book world, and especially in historical fiction. This was my first time reading one of her works and unfortunately it was a poor introduction. It really wouldn’t encourage me to read any of her other books, but I would have hoped some of her other novels are far better than this. It was quite shocking to read such a bad book by a bestselling and well-known author.
The premise is interesting and had potential, but it fell a long long way from that. My main issue with this book is the plot – or lack of it. It reads like its split in two halves. The first half of the book is readable but unremarkable. Luca is investigating witchcraft at the nunnery where Isolde has recently been made Lady Abbess. I found the mystery intriguing and didn’t guess the ‘solution’ to the investigation. It wasn’t a great mystery, but it was okay. There was just about enough to keep me reading.
It went quite downhill after that point. The second half of the book is a rambling mess with no direction. Coincidence after coincidence follow one after another. They happen to stumble upon another unusual happening to investigate totally by chance and decide to get involved, but it’s totally unconnected from the first half of the book. I couldn’t get into the second half at all because I could not see the point of it. The ‘solution’ to this investigation was highly predictable. I guessed it almost instantly so there was nothing to keep me engaged. There was no end goal, no point. There wasn’t even a point in all the characters being there except Gregory wanted them to all be there, so she found a lame excuse to shoehorn them all together. The plot (if you can call it that) is poorly planned out and it just seems to be a random jumble of events.
A book with a questionable plot can be carried by good characters. That was not the case here. All of the characters, including the two protagonists, were totally bland. Luca and Isolde had absolutely no personality. I didn’t feel invested in them at all because they were so flat and uninteresting. I don’t think I have read another book that had quite such bad characters. Usually at least one has a flicker of a personality, even if the others are weak. Not in this case. None of the characters were interesting or likeable and none of them developed. The characters have vague goals but Gregory steers them away from those goals to suit her plot and hopes the reader won’t notice. I noticed.
The one thing I did like about the book, and which salvaged it a star, is the setting. It’s clear Gregory did her research. I felt transported to 15th Century Italy and the details really made it come to life. This is clearly where her strength lies, but it couldn’t make up for the total mess of the rest of this train wreck.
This is the first book in the series and I wouldn’t choose to keep reading. However, I bought the next two books a while ago so I will attempt to get through them and see if I hate them just as much.
More Than This by Patrick Ness
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, LGBT
Publishing Info: 2015 by Walker Books (first published 2013)
Star Rating: 4/5
Back Cover Summary:
From two-time Carnegie Medal winner Patrick Ness comes an enthralling and provocative new novel chronicling the life — or perhaps afterlife — of a teen trapped in a crumbling, abandoned world.
A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighborhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust, and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him? Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this. . . .
The intriguing back cover description of this book caught my attention. The first half, however, didn’t. I started this book in February and got half way through it before I had to put it down due to heavy university workload. It has taken me a long time to pick it back up again, even though I finished uni in July and have had plenty of free time. At first, I felt really engaged. The book threw up so many questions, I wanted to keep reading and find out the answers to them. However, it didn’t go anywhere. The first half is so slow and the plot so stagnant I started to lose interest.
When I picked it back up again a couple of weeks ago, it wasn’t hard to orientate myself again even though it was so long since I last read it, because so little happened. From the midpoint of the novel things start picking up and the plot moves forward instead of just stagnating. It is quite a heavy read though.
The one thing I did like about the slow first half is that it reflected the main character’s isolation and the length of time he was alone for. That was very effective, and I found it so at the time I was reading, but that first half just dragged on for a bit too long. The same effect would have been created if that section had been a bit shorter.
The characters are good. I liked Regine and Thomasz because they weren’t perfect characters. They were well rounded with flaws and depth to them. I also liked how the book played on reader expectations. The main character often thinks of what would happen if he were in a story, which is clever as the book refers to its own form.
The ending is quite ambiguous, which really works for this novel. It leads the reader to ask questions, to question the reality of what they’ve just read, and to think about the issues brought up in the book.
This book treats young adults as intelligent. A lot of YA, not all, follow cookie cutter formulas and don’t really push young readers or make them think. There’s nothing wrong with this kind of book. I do like a good easy read. But it is good that a book like this is out there too, because it’s the sort that really does make you think, and that’s a great thing to have in YA publishing.
The Kill Order by James Dashner
Genre: Young Adult, Post-Apocalyptic
Publishing Info: 2013 by Chicken House (first published 2012)
Star Rating: 2/5
Back Cover Summary:
Sun flares have unleashed devastation on the earth. Mark and Trina were there when it happened, and against the odds they survived.
But now a violent and high contagious disease is spreading like wildfire. Worse still, it’s mutating, and people are going crazy. Mark and Trina will do anything to save their friends – if only they can avoid madness and stay alive…
The opening few chapters got my interest, and I wanted to know more. I wanted to keep reading to find out why the virus was happening. The opening action sequence was exciting and gave me high hopes for the rest of the book. Unfortunately, it didn’t continue as well as it started.
The plot is vague. It just didn’t really go anywhere. Despite the constant action, I lost interest because there wasn’t anything else to keep me engaged. There was a lot of action, maybe too much. The action scenes become quite repetitive. Some of them were hard to follow. There was a scene at some kind of base, where I just couldn’t visualise the awkward attempts at describing the characters’ surroundings and spent a few chapters feeling confused because I couldn’t visualise what the characters were doing. In a couple of places, Dashner made the odds the characters had to face (e.g. the number of enemies in a fight) so difficult that it seemed unrealistic for them to get out of those situations.
The fast pace also meant there was little time to develop characters. As with the Maze Runner trilogy, most of the characters were bland, and the book lacked any kind of character arcs. Only Alec’s personality came through, but only through repetitive emphasis on his characteristics.
I wasn’t keen on the flashbacks, but that may have been to do with the way they are written. The narrative switches to present tense for the flashbacks. Dashner’s writing seems to read even worse in present tense than it does in past tense. His writing is simple, which I didn’t have too much issue with in the other books, but for some reason in this one it’s very clunky. I also felt the dream flashbacks didn’t add anything that couldn’t have been conveyed in other ways, such as through Mark’s thoughts.
There is a strange prologue and epilogue with Teresa and Thomas which doesn’t connect much with the main story. I wasn’t sure why Dashner wrote this book. It showed more about how the virus broke out, which was interesting, but beyond that I didn’t see the point. If I hadn’t previously read books by the same author, I likely would have given up on it, but as I enjoyed The Maze Runner, I thought I would give it a chance and read to the end.
After finishing the book, I did an internet search to find out how the book connects with the main series. I felt there must have been a bigger connection. It turns out one of the characters from The Maze Runner is in The Kill Order. Was I supposed to remember one tiny bit of dialogue from the main trilogy? I don’t even remember reading the bit of information that shows the connection to the character. Maybe I missed something totally obvious, and I’m the odd one out. There was nothing in The Kill Order to suggest one of the characters was one from the main trilogy. I think there is too much reliance on memory of a small detail included in the other books. If I had to do an internet search to understand what I was reading, then it was too subtle.
I would have enjoyed the book more if I’d realised the big connection to the Maze Runner trilogy. However, the book and characters should have been able to stand on their own without reliance on the connection to the main series. The fact that only understanding the connection to the Maze Runner trilogy character would have made me care about the characters and plot, just highlights how flawed The Kill Order is.
Book reviews of the trilogy:
Soulmates by Holly Bourne
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publishing Info: 2013 by Usbourne (kindle edition)
Star Rating: 3/5
Back Cover Summary:
Every so often, two people are born who are the perfect match for each other. Soulmates. But while the odds of this happening are about as likely as being struck by lightning, when these people do meet and fall in love, thunderstorms, lightning strikes and lashings of rain are only the beginning of their problems. After a chance meeting at a local band night, Poppy and Noah find themselves swept up in a whirlwind romance unlike anything they’ve ever experienced before. But with a secret international agency preparing to separate them and a trail of destruction rumbling in their wake, they are left with an impossible choice between the end of the world, or a life without love…
This book takes the popular cliché of soulmates and puts an interesting spin on it. It was interesting to see a different side to the idea, but although the concept was good, the story was a little weak. One thing I did like was that it was set in the UK, as most YA books are set in the US. This made a nice change for me since I’m from the UK.
It was very slow in places and fairly predictable. There were points where I found myself getting bored but decided to persist to find out what would happen in the end. Some scenes dragged too much. A lot of the book was orientated towards building the characters and showing their relationships to each other, which was done well, but there was just too much of it. The characters were likeable and well rounded, but the lack of plot and conflict dragged the book down.
The last quarter picked up the pace but then it lost me again with such long explanations about the science behind soulmates. It wasn’t that it was overly scientific, Bourne did a good job of explaining it, but it was just too drawn out for me and my interest dwindled. The emotions were written very well in the last section of the book, and it was heart wrenching to read at times. The ending was one of the strongest parts for me. It didn’t fall into the formula of typical endings and provided a sad, but more realistic, ending than many books.
I didn’t hate it, but it’s just one of those books that isn’t very memorable.
Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Poetry
Publishing Info: 2010 by Margaret McElderry Books (first published 2004)
Star Rating: 4/5
Back Cover Summary:
Kristina is the perfect daughter: gifted high school junior, quiet, never any trouble. Then she meets the monster: crank. And what begins as a wild ride turns into a struggle for her mind, her soul–her life.
Ellen Hopkins, whom mediabistro.com has called “the bestselling living poet in the country,” exploded onto the young adult scene with her first novel, Crank, which has become a national bestseller. School Library Journal acclaims Crank as “a stunning portrayal of a teen’s loss of direction and realistically uncertain future.” Publishers Weekly raves, “[Hopkins] creates a world nearly as consuming and disturbing as the titular drug.”
Crank is a transfixing look into the tortured lives of addicts and the people who love them.
Crank is the second book by Ellen Hopkins I have read and, like Impulse, takes the form of the novel in verse, or verse novel. I was pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed the verse novel form when I read Impulse, and was keen to read more by Ellen Hopkins. Once again Hopkins tackles a serious issue head on. While Impulse looked at mental health, Crank follows its protagonist through drug addiction.
I don’t know much about drug addiction and have never read a book about it, so I found Hopkins’s blatant and open address of the issue difficult to read but enlightening. The verse novel form particularly suits the subject matter in this case, and Hopkins uses the verse brilliantly, fully capitalising on its potential. The poems are written in erratic stanzas that range across the page, with some of the verse in ‘normal’ stanzas and some spread across the page, others formed in shapes, and many other myriad and interesting styles. This reflects the erratic Kristina and the highs and lows of her addiction.
The other characters were fairly typical and flat as they weren’t given the time to become well rounded characters. However, I didn’t feel this was as big an issue as it would be in other books since the focus of the story is very much on Kristina’s internal conflict with her addiction. The plot was also fairly predictable in places, with some eye rolling on my part at some points which appeared to be presented as ‘twists’ but which weren’t all that surprising. Yet, as with my previous point, it didn’t really matter that much to me because it’s more of a character and emotion driven story that a plot focused novel.
The book was well paced and being told in verse didn’t hinder it carrying a strong narrative. However, the ending felt quite rushed compared. The last several poems summarised the end of the story too much, meaning it lost the emotional impact it had carried in the rest of the book.
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Romance
Publishing Info: 2009 by Atom (first published 2006)
Star Rating: 2/5
Back Cover Summary:
When Isabella Swan moves to the gloomy town of Forks and meets the mysterious, alluring Edward Cullen, her life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn. With his porcelain skin, golden eyes, mesmerizing voice, and supernatural gifts, Edward is both irresistible and impenetrable. Up until now, he has managed to keep his true identity hidden, but Bella is determined to uncover his dark secret. What Bella doesn’t realize is that the closer she gets to him, the more she is putting herself and those around her at risk. And it might be too late to turn back …
It’s probably clear from the 2 star rating that I didn’t particularly like this book. As I said in my previous blog post, I’m reading Twilight for the first time, as it’s on the reading list for my degree. I’ve seen and disliked the films, and I’ve heard so many mixed opinions about this book that in many ways I didn’t actually know what to expect. Would I hate it as much as I was anticipating? Or would it be not as bad as expected? I tried to go in with an open mind.
The book actually starts out reasonably well (much to my surprise). Unfortunately it set up an expectation that I might not hate the rest of the book as much as I expected to, but that hope didn’t last all too long. It starts off fairly typically – a girl moves to another town, which she dislikes greatly, and is the new girl in school. Something that’s been done plenty of times before, but although Bella didn’t want to move, it was her choice to, not her parents’ choice. That piqued my curiosity because it seemed to be a contradictory situation and I was interested to know why Bella had made that decision even though she seemed to hate Forks so much. So my initial impression of the book was a reasonably good one. Bella seemed to be an ordinary girl, and not quite as bland as in the films (I think the acting contributed there).
Even when Edward was first introduced I still didn’t mind the book. If I hadn’t seen the films and knew nothing about the story, I probably would have been intrigued to find out more about the mysterious Cullen family. At first, I could understand why Bella was interested in Edward, his peculiar behaviour towards her meant that it made sense for her to be thinking about him and wondering if and why he seemed to hate her and have a physical aversion towards her. Then they get talking and spend a lot of time staring at each other and Bella spends a lot of time thinking about Edward, and I mean yeah she’s a teenage girl with a crush, but she’s constantly thinking about it and it just started to get on my nerves. I still didn’t mind the book too much though. At this point, I didn’t even dislike it yet.
Then the book goes downhill. Dramatically. Insta-love is one of my pet peeves that annoys me most about young adult books. Bella and Edward hardly know each other, and yet a third of the way through the book Bella starts thinking about how she ‘loves’ Edward – “unconditionally and irrevocably”. Um, no dear, you’re obsessed and infatuated, not in love. The whole middle section of the book was the worst part by far for me. It just went on and on, with so much awful dialogue and going on about being ‘in love’ even though they only just met. Don’t start me on how stalkerish Edward is – watching her sleep every night? That equals breaking and entering and stalking. That’s not romantic, that’s creepy. Bella’s dependence on Edward is also so much the problem, which is why I used the word obsession earlier.
Then the book redeems itself a little in the last quarter of the book, where something actually happens. Having seen the film I knew what happened, but I can imagine it would be quite exciting if you didn’t know what was going to happen, and there were a couple of twists. This last section did definitely keep my attention.
This book could have been okay if not for its fatal flaw – the obsessive relationship between Bella and Edward, and their irritating professions of love. Which unfortunately, as a romance story, is the main part of the book. I liked the rainy and bleak setting of Forks, and there were some good descriptions of the setting. The history of the Cullen family is interesting and I like that Meyer gives the backstory of the family and how they came to be the kind of vampires they are. The minor characters were actually more likeable to me than Bella and Edward. I really liked Alice as a character and also liked the other Cullens even though they didn’t feature much until the last section. I also liked the idea of vampires who hunt animals rather than humans, but that they still find that difficult. It seemed realistic to me that they would still find restraining from human blood a challenge even after a hundred years, and this creates an interesting inner conflict for the vampire characters.
I won’t be reading the rest of the series as I know I would probably just end up being annoyed and frustrated with it. There are so many books I want to read, and would rather spend my time reading ones that I know I’m going to enjoy more. Maybe one day though I’ll wade my way through the rest of the books out of curiosity.
Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
Genre: Children’s/Young Adult, Fantasy
Publishing Info: 1998 by Scholastic Point (first published 1995)
Star Rating: 4/5
Back Cover Summary:
When Lyra’s friend Roger disappears, she and her dæmon, Pantalaimon, determine to find him.
The ensuing quest leads them to the bleak splendour of the North, where armoured bears rule the ice and witch-queens fly through the frozen skies – and where a team of scientists is conducting experiments too horrible to be spoken about.
Lyra overcomes these strange terrors, only to find something yet more perilous waiting for her – something with consequences which may even reach beyond the Northern Lights…
It’s taken me a while to get around to reading this well-known first book in the His Dark Materials series. I thought it was about time. I’ve seen the film a couple of times but not for a few years, and I’ve decided I don’t like reading books after I’ve seen a film adaptation. The film is really different in many ways, but a lot of it is similar to the books. I feel that it just ruins the element of surprise because you know some of what is going to happen. The bit of the book I found most exciting was the end section, probably because they didn’t include that in the film so I didn’t know what would happen, and the twists were actually a surprise.
There seemed to be quite a bit at the beginning at Jordan College, before she actually left. Having seen the film I knew the plot was going to get interesting, but if I hadn’t known that I’m not sure the beginning few chapters would have pulled me in when I was the target age of the book. It just took a while to get going, and there were points throughout the book that were a bit slow.
I liked Lyra as a main character, she had a really strong personality and I wanted to follow her story, but there were few others that really stood out or were interesting. Iorek and Iofur were good characters. Roger was very bland and lacking in personality, like the author couldn’t be bothered to make him a proper character. What I did like was that the boundary between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ characters was blurred.
Plot-wise the story kept me engaged and the world building is also engaging. It was imaginative, with lots of little details that made it seem like a real place. It deals with quite complex themes and issues in places, which I expect will develop as the series progresses.
I’ve heard that the next two books are quite different to the first one, and maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but Northern Lights pulled me into the story enough to want to read the next books at some point in the future.
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publishing Info: Walker Books (first published 2010)
Star Rating: 3.5/5
Back Cover Summary:
Seventeen-year-old Lennie Walker, bookworm and band geek, plays second clarinet and spends her time tucked safely and happily in the shadow of her fiery older sister, Bailey. But when Bailey dies abruptly, Lennie is catapulted to center stage of her own life – and, despite her nonexistent history with boys, suddenly finds herself struggling to balance two. Toby was Bailey’s boyfriend; his grief mirrors Lennie’s own. Joe is the new boy in town, a transplant from Paris whose nearly magical grin is matched only by his musical talent. For Lennie, they’re the sun and the moon; one boy takes her out of her sorrow, the other comforts her in it. But just like their celestial counterparts, they can’t collide without the whole wide world exploding.
This remarkable debut is perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Francesca Lia Block. Just as much a celebration of love as it is a portrait of loss, Lennie’s struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often hilarious, and ultimately unforgettable.
What first attracted me to this book was the many poems spaced throughout the book, which are designed to look like they’re written in Lennie’s handwriting on an assortment of things including crumpled notepad paper and paper cups. I can’t imagine how that would look on an eReader, so I think this is one of those books which is best experienced in paperback.
The poems added an interesting element and created another level for looking into Lennie’s thoughts and feelings. The idea is that Lennie writes these poems on random scraps and they’re dotted around the town. The issue I had was that it randomly says Lennie scribbles a poem on a few occasions in the story, but then the reader isn’t given any insight into why she has written that particular poem, what her thoughts were when she was writing it. It’s flippantly mentioned that she writes the poem, and then that’s it the story moves on. This meant that it felt disconnected. It contrasted with the high level of access the reader gets to Lennie’s thoughts through the whole narrative and just seemed odd that her thoughts just disappear whenever she writes a poem. It just felt strange to read and inconsistent.
The book kept me reading and I found Lennie’s narration charming and at times humorous, as well as her quirky family putting a smile on my face. Grief, I think, as a major part of the book was portrayed well. I could feel Lennie’s emotions and the metaphors Nelson used meant I could really put myself in Lennie’s position and understand her grief. Everyone copes with grief in different ways, and I think this was shown well through the members of Lennie’s family.
I was dismayed to find that the cliché love triangle had snuck into another young adult novel. It wasn’t completely despicable though, unlike others I have read. There was a reason for the pull both boys had on Lennie, and the ‘love interests’ were both fully formed and unique characters rather than cardboard cut-out stereotypes. Also Lennie was only really in love with one of them, so the book wasn’t full of irritating ‘ohhh who should I choose?’ dilemmas that drive me up the wall.
As a young adult contemporary romance it is by far one of the better ones I have read, with likeable characters and some humorous moments amidst the heart-wrenching portrayal of grief. It’s just a shame that the poems aspect of the book wasn’t effectively tied to the narrative.