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 15 books. Here’s how my 2015 challenge went, with a short review and rating for each of the books:
1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Review to come.
2. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Reading Wild, I wanted to pack my bags up and go for a long walk to somewhere unknown. I’d been travelling myself the year before picking up this book, so I knew what it felt like to trek around unfamiliar places with no responsibilities to worry about or people to put you down, without plans and an infinite amount of time ahead of you to do whatever you felt right. But I wasn’t particularly inspired by the story at the time of reading it because it isn’t the motivational journey as promised.
3. The Divergent Series: Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Divergent did well to set the story up, especially with the huge competition that the franchise and their adaptations have had. But it excelled on most levels: it had great characters, a well-crafted future world, a bit of romance, a lot of intrigue and even more action. Yet Insurgent falls flat on most of these levels.
Throughout the story, we only want the answer to one question: what is the information that Jeanine is trying to hide? But it’s not until the very end that we find out, and until then there’s a lot of build up to, well, nothing. There are a lot more shooting and fighting scenes in this instalment, and more focus on the fear simulations that give the story its dark edge, so you would think that Insurgent would be a gripping read. But what stands out more than these impacting scenes is the amount of times that Tris cries, and her constant worry about Four.
4. Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Review to come.
5. The Light Between The Oceans by M. L. Stedman
I can’t wait for this film to be adapted, the casting looks exceptional and it will be directed by one of my favourite directors. But we won’t getting the film until at least 2017, so I’ll probably read this a few more times before then. The Light Between Oceans starts off quite slow, and it takes a while to really draw you in. But by the end, you will be left heartbroken. It’s a beautiful and emotional story, with great characters and a tearful ending.
6. The Maze Runner Series: The Scorch Trials by James Dashner
Just like the first book, The Scorch Trials is full of adventure, action and anticipation. The books are incredibly fun to read, with a new twist springing up in every chapter to keep you excited and engaged. There are new technologically advanced monsters, personal tests of humanity, and struggles against a world which is controlled by others, which all keep the pace up, the scares coming, and the readers on edge.
But The Scorch Trials does become quite repetitive at times. Thomas passes out at the end of almost every chapter, and we are somewhat undermined as intelligent readers as the book constantly questions whether his visions are memories or just dreams. We knew that Thomas’ visions were memories from the first book, but as more and more is revealed with the amount of times that Thomas is left unconscious, it becomes a little tedious at times.
7. Paper Towns by John Green
Paper Towns is two things: a heartfelt story about growing up, and an exhilarating adventure motivated by love, friendship, and the desire to push yourself further in an attempt to find out who you really are. The story explores a set of characters who are at a point in their lives where everything is changing; a time when a teenager is at their most emotional. The end of high school is the end of an era, everything matters a great deal at this point, but with unwanted ends come new beginnings, and in a few months they will all be starting new lives with new friends as they leave for different colleges anyway.
8. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
It’s no wonder that To Kill a Mockingbird has been deemed a classic because that’s exactly what it is. Scout is such a brilliant character, and I didn’t want to stop reading. I don’t even like the film adaptation, which is a very rare thing for me to say because I just don’t think that it gives this incredible story the justice it deserves.
9. The Martian by Andy Weir
The Martian is a refreshing and intelligent science fiction book, telling a personal story of optimism and bravery that is filled to the brim with immersive adventure. Balancing on the border of realism and science fiction, it tells a gripping tale of survival. The technology terms and mathematics may occasionally get a little thick but, at the same time, it’s so nice to read a book where the author has obviously put a lot of research into the matter. Too often I find myself reading something thinking how little thought or description has been put into it, but with Weir’s story, he leaves no doubt in your mind or question unanswered.
10. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
Dark Places is a brilliantly intense mystery and a fast-paced thriller. I read the book in one sitting, proving yet again that Flynn knows how to completely immerse you into the story and its characters. The book felt like a real thriller with its complex story. With the case revolving around satanic rituals, as well, it felt very close to the real-life Memphis Three trial, which was made into the 2013 film Devil’s Knot, making it even more interesting to follow.
With these themes of satanic rituals, Dark Places is incredibly dark at times, especially when you don’t know where to place your trust. As you find with most of Flynn’s books, you don’t know who you’re supposed to be rooting for, or even who to like, and this uncertainty is what grips you. The characters are so well-developed, even if all of them have their fair share of disturbing natures, and even though you don’t know who the enemy is, you find yourself relating to each of them.
11. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
We all think we know Kipling’s story thanks to Disney, but The Jungle Book is actually a collection of fables, and only 3 out of 7 of them relate to Mowgli. I was only interested in these three stories because it was only about Mowgli that I wanted to read about, which left me quite frustrated at first. But whilst the other 4 fables give memorable moral lessons, the book is very dated and even I found them quite difficult to relate with. I wouldn’t particularly say that this is a children’s book because I think older readers will get much more out of it, but you do need to be prepared for a more in-depth story than the Disneyfied version. The stories of Mowgli and his friends are quite different from the story we know, but there’s a lot more to appreciate in terms of imagination and adventure. They may not be the simple fairytale you were imagining, but Kipling is an incredibly insightful writer.
12. Animal Farm by George Orwell
George Orwell is certainly one of the best. His work is always so relevant, and it’s astonishing just how well he understands the progression of society and intentions of the government, enough to keep his writing thought-provoking decades later. In the context of animals on a farm, Orwell’s exploration of socialism, communism and democracy is perfect. Those three words are all subjects I never thought I would find interesting topics in a book, but Orwell knows how to entice an audience while exploring quite mundane but hard-hitting subjects, whilst also making the story entertaining and engaging.
13. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Colm Tóibín’s book is a literary delight. Incredibly well written, Tóibín uses plain prose and a simple linear structure, but his writing reads like poetry as he adds detached detail to almost every sentence. It’s easy to see why the book is so well praised, telling a simple story about a young girl transforming into a woman, finding her own way in life as an immigrant in a big city.
But although I enjoyed reading the book, it was pretty uneventful for the most part and it was only until the final few chapters where we meet Jim that I was eager to read through until the end and find out what happens.
14. Lord of The Flies by William Golding
Well, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I expected a lot more order among the group but it’s quite hectic from the beginning, so there’s no surprise that it doesn’t end well. It is really well written, but I found the stereotypes too dated to find it relatable, although it is an excellent exploration of character. It is quite scary by the end, too, and it certainly leaves you with a lot to think about.
15. Room by Emma Donoghue
Told from the perspective of a five-year-old, this narrative style is a bold step from author Emma Donoghue, and it’s not always one that pays off. The last child narrated book that I read was John Boyne’s The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, and I couldn’t get into the story because of how repetitive it was. Having such a young mind defining the writing style can often mean that the language and sentence structure suffer, just like with the first half of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks Of Being A Wallflower. This another one of my favourite books, but it is one that is again difficult to get into because of how simply the language is written at the beginning, as Chbosky allows time for the language to improve as the narrating character grows.
But Donoghue captures what it is to be so young perfectly, and by mimicking the voice of a five-year-old so well, Room remains an incredibly well-written book throughout. Jack knows nothing but the 11×11 square room that he has grown up in, which is hard enough to describe on the page as it is. But as Jack says hello to his friends – Rug, Plant, Wardrobe, Lamp – and struggles to come to terms with the thought of even one other person or a single blade of grass existing outside of the walls he is imprisoned in, we experience this traumatic experience through the eyes of an intelligent, cheerful, good-natured, and brave little boy.