Over the past couple of years, I have documented every film I have watched and reviewed them all. As a way to motivate myself to read more, I thought I would do the same for what books I have been reading. So, this year I set myself a challenge of reading one book a month; a small challenge, maybe, but it was a start.
This year I set myself a challenge of 12 books. Here’s how my 2014 challenge went, with a short review and rating for each of the books that I read:
1. The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin
The Mountain Between Us is one of my favourite books; a remarkable story that breaks me into pieces with its heartbreaking ending with every read. Part survival story, part romance, the story is told through two narratives. In the present, Ben is stranded with Ashley in a desolate landscape as the two are drawn closer through their experience. But every night, whilst Ashley sleeps, Ben talks to his wife through a voice recording device, looking back on how they met and fell in love, leading us all the way up to their recent separation.
With these two contrasting stories, you don’t just keep reading to find out if they make it, you also keep reading to see what it is that Ben did to end his marriage and to see whose love prevails. You are torn between wanting Ashley to be loved by somebody like Ben, and with Ben reconciling with Rachel to prove that “love is worth doing.”
2. The Rosie Project by Don Tillman
I couldn’t help but think of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory whilst reading this; the quirky and awkward characters make this book unique and one worth reading.
There’s something so comforting in books with characters like Don Tillman and I think the author handles the portrayal of a character with autism well.
My only downside of the book was that the ending was a little rushed and it played along to too many stereotypes in the end.
You can buy the book on Amazon here.
3. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Told in the first person by Hazel herself, the book’s narrative style allows the story to feel real, as if it were Hazel’s diary as she documents every moment and thought in her life as a cancer patient, knowing that one day soon will be her last. This also makes Hazel a strong female lead, as we know exactly what’s going through her mind. It’s a fantastic technique used to engage its readers, so it’s no wonder the book remained The New York Times’ No.1 Best Seller for seven weeks.
But not only is The Fault In Our Stars a compelling character-driven drama, it’s also a very decent romance; there’s no fantasy here, just pure love between two characters who want to give something their all whilst they still have the chance to fight for it. And that’s what you’ve got to love about this book; there’s true emotion, all of which you will feel along the way, a yearning for accomplishment, and above all, a passionate desire to simply live and love.
4. Labor Day by Joyce Maynard
Labor Day is a brilliant coming of age story. Narrated by 13-year-old Henry, we see the story through his eyes as he learns about things that all teenage boys experience as he goes through puberty and learns about his own sexuality, lessons that a father-figure teaches such as throwing a baseball and how to make the perfect pie crust, but also about things that are much bigger than the world he knows, including the power of love, the impact of betrayal, the power of jealousy, and the conflict between selfishness and selflessness.
It’s a fast read but it certainly one that grabs your attention. There are darker tones with the premise around a man who has been imprisoned for murder kidnapping and keeping hostage an unstable mother and her son and some more unsettling scenes around Adele and Frank’s past, but there’s also a powerfully raw tale of how love has no bounds that’s woven around this.
You can read my full review here and buy the book on Amazon here.
5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
The best characteristics of a dystopia are always around the themes of standing up for yourself, fighting against wrong, and making a difference, and it’s what we’ve been waiting for Katniss to do. Now, she must become the iconic Mockingjay, a symbol of hope and courage in the revolution, to unify the districts of Panem, fight to save those she loves, and attempt to shatter the games forever.
It’s this focus on character that a majority of the book focuses on, seeing Katniss build up her strength and prepare for a revolution. This first half of the book works incredibly well to build up the atmosphere. Emotions of fear and desperation in a world nobody wants to live in are strong, and Katniss becomes the heroine she was born to be.
6. The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Hobbit remains a classic even today. It is a story that many of us are likely to have read whilst growing up, or were at least forced to during education, with the book and its adaptations now being a part of one of the biggest film franchises to date.
Full of fantasy and imagination, The Hobbit is an epic journey that centres on bravery, friendship and loyalty. It’s one of the most original stories ever crafted, and it’s no wonder that it remains hugely popular even 80 years later.
7. Divergent by Veronica Roth
Veronica Roth‘s Divergent is a well-written, contemporary young adult book with an emotional depth and a host of engaging characters. With an equal balance of action, romance, and personal character developments, the quick pace and rapid plot progression ensures that there’s constantly something happening to keep you interested.
Roth sets up her dystopian world excellently. Whilst there are many young adult dystopias around at the minute, Roth’s book manages to feel original from start to finish and, for that, she has given us a lot to look forward to with the rest of the trilogy.
8. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
The Maze Runner is a dark adventure full of hope, determination, and desperation. Centring on a group of young characters who are forced to grow up in unbelievable circumstances, it’s this dark approach to its dystopian setting that is The Maze Runner‘s strongest quality, giving a refreshing approach to a typical teenage coming-of-age story. The Maze Runner explores this theme perfectly, as the boys eat, drink, work, sleep, and fight together, having to grow up fast and become men way ahead of their time.
The Maze Runner may often be compared to The Hunger Games with the similarities in its dystopian setting, having adults in control and inflicting violence on young characters, but, to me, it feels a lot more like Lord of the Flies at times. The Maze Runner is about a group of young boys working together, creating a life for themselves in an unknown environment, making their own rules and keeping order, and ensuring that everybody has a part to play. Thomas works closely with everybody, getting to know the different jobs and Keepers of these roles, describing to us every corner of the Glade. Before the action and dystopian setting really kick in, it’s this focus that The Maze Runner has, seeing how these teenagers cope in a world without adults as they try to understand their place in an unimaginable world.
9. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
An intense mystery thriller, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is a book that you definitely won’t want to put down. Every twist poses a new question, and with a somewhat psychotic conclusion that you wouldn’t even consider an option, this book will have your brain ticking at full pace until you reach the very end.
It’s this intense and never-ending suspense, as well as the idea of never knowing the whole story, that makes Gone Girl such a gripping read. Not only is it a fantastic thriller, but it’s also an excellent exploration of relationships.
Introduced to the readers as your average husband and wife, Nick and Amy are a couple that you quickly warm to. But there’s always a side to a couple that you don’t see. Gone Girl lets you in to see how a couple may seem happy and loved-up from the outside, but how this happiness can easily be blurred.
10. Serena by Ron Rash
Serena is a well-written book with poetic language, beautiful descriptions, and great attention to detail.
It really is impressive on the page and it has a strong female lead, too, which is always a bonus.
However, it’s not nearly tense enough for a book with death on almost every page and the characters are difficult to relate to/like for much of the story.
You can buy the book on Amazon here.
11. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
I began reading this book after watching the first few series of the TV adaptation. They’re both very similar so, for that, the TV series is a brilliant adaptation, and they’ve created the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros on-screen perfectly.
The books tell a fantastic story and has a number of great characters, making for one excellent TV show. If you’ve seen the series then you don’t learn anything new from reading the book, however, just some more in-depth background information, but it’s Martin’s brilliant imagination we have to thank for that.
12. The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp
I read this book before watching the film adaptation. From the cover alone, I thought I was going to love it. But the book underwhelmed me. It’s not quite the love story you expect it to be. I wanted it to be a deep exploration of character, about finding yourself and the person who can help you to do that. Instead, it was more of a realistic, less Jane Austen, exploration of teenagers and their aspirations. It’s a rom-com that would appeal more to a young male audience, I felt, as the spark I wanted just wasn’t there.
It’s realistic, I’ll give it that, but I wanted to find two characters I would love, not two that I would be constantly disappointed with.
You can buy the book on Amazon here.