Welcome to Recent Reads #2! If you missed my first Recent Reads post, make sure you check it out! Here you'll find a list of all the books I've read over the past couple of months and a short review of each (no spoilers obviously, because spoilers - or as I like to call them, life-ruiners - are the worst).
The cover images all include links to Booktopia.com.au, so if you're inspired to pick up one of these wonderful books, I've made it nice and easy for you to grab yourself a copy! Let me know if you decide to give any of them a go, I'd love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to email me, or connect via social media :)
The Magician King | Lev Grossman
It’s not often that a sequel is better than its predecessor—a phenomenon I find particularly prevalent in trilogies, where the first and third books are often much stronger than the second—but The Magician King was such a wonderful read! Don’t get me wrong, I loved The Magicians (see my last Recent Reads post) but this book took the whole concept to another level. The writing was equally as witty and engaging, but the plot was even more magical than the first. The Magicians comes entirely from the protagonist Quentin Coldwater’s perspective, but Grossman has added in a second point of view in The Magician King, that of Julia, a friend of Quentin’s from high school, a ‘hedge-witch’ who had to learn magic the hard way. The second narrative follows Julia’s struggle to become a magician after not being accepted into Brakebills Academy like Quentin and the rest of his magical friends. I found Julia’s point of view on the magical world even more engaging than the continuation of Quentin’s tale in Fillory. Just like The Magicians, the sequel takes the reader on a wonderful journey into Grossman’s dark world of magic, which is far more pragmatic and bleak than the Wizarding World of JK Rowling that we all know and love. This is a must-read for any fantasy fan, but I would definitely recommend reading The Magicians first, as The Magician King’s strengths draw on prior knowledge of the world that the Grossman has created.
Wildflower | Drew Barrymore
I read Drew’s autobiography as 'research' for a project that I’m working on, and it’s not something I otherwise would have picked up, to be perfectly honest. I do have to say, though, that I thoroughly enjoyed all of her anecdotes about growing up as a child star, and her struggle to find some kind of normalcy after her whole life fell apart and she was emancipated from her mother’s care. The thing I loved about this book was that Drew's voice was so incredibly clear in her writing, and you could hear her saying every single line of the text. I, for one, wished the anecdotes were structured chronologically, as they appeared to be quite haphazardly organised, without a real sense of through line or overlying story arc. Some of the stories dragged on a little bit or seemed a little inconsequential to me, but I guess every reader will empathise with different aspects of Drew’s life, and take from the book what they will. A very interesting read, especially if you’re drawn to Hollywood drama, or the behind-the-scenes lives of film stars, but nothing particularly life-changing.
The Coming Storm | Paul Russell
I had searched and searched for this book in Australia to no avail, and eventually stumbled upon it in amongst other pre-loved queer fiction books on the expansive shelves of The Strand Book Store in New York City (recently I found it on Booktopia.com.au, but I kind of love that I bought my copy in New York anyway). The Coming Storm tells the tale of a prep-school teacher in New York State who falls in love with one of his male students. The story is told from four perspectives: the teacher, the student, the principal of the school and the principal’s wife. Each point of view is interesting enough, though the teacher’s and student’s are far more engaging, probably because they deal more with the crux of the matter. One thing I wished Russell had worked into his writing - as so many YA authors do these days - was more differentiation between the points of view in terms of language. The difference between the fourteen-year-old student and the sixty-year-old principal is rather minimal, with the narrative voice using basically the same vocabulary. This is the first 'adult' book I've read for a while, and sometimes I found myself wishing that Russell had selected an easier way to convey some things; I'm not saying 'give me clichés', but I found myself sometimes really having to decipher metaphors, which always makes me feel that there could have been a clearer way to write something. Aside from that, I found the story intriguing, oftentimes provocative and occasionally shocking. If queer fiction interests you, definitely give this one a read, but bear in mind that the taboo subject matter may not be for everyone!
Year of Yes | Shonda Rhimes
It’s no secret that I love a bit of a ‘self-help’ book (Oprah’s What Do I Know For Sure and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic being my favourites) and it’s safe to say that I can add Rhimes’ Year of Yes to that list. To begin with, I’m a HUGE Grey’s Anatomy fan—to an almost sad degree, and yes I’ve watched all thirteen seasons—so Shonda is a bit of a hero of mine. But her book was delightful. She tells the story of her own personal ‘year of yes’, where she decided to face her fears and stop saying no to things as a default setting. Her voice is clever, funny, sarcastic and confident, much like my favourite character from Grey’s, and thoroughly entertaining. She is a strong, powerful woman, a demographic that often cops a lot of flack, and for a male feminist like myself, I found her prose engaging, hilarious and empowering. Even though her target audience may be largely American women of colour, I believe anyone would be able to draw a lot from this book, particularly anyone who battles with their own self-doubt on a daily basis (like pretty much everyone I know). I purposefully started reading this book on the first of January (I love a bit of symbolism), and it was the perfect way to start my year of reading. But don’t wait until next year, grab Year of Yes from a shelf now and I promise you won’t be disappointed!
Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1)| Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
For me, this is probably going to be the standout book of 2017. Yes, I know it’s only March, but I’m happy to call it early. I LOVED this book. LOVED. I don’t read a huge amount of science fiction, but this book has received endless praise from all the YA buffs on Goodreads and Instagram, so I thought I should give it a go. Let’s start with its defining feature: Illuminae is a dossier or files. Yes, files. Sound boring? WRONG. I know it's hard to get your head around, but this book is BRILLIANT. The files range from emails, to instant messages, to video surveillance transcripts and some other crazy stuff that I’ll wait for you to find out for yourselves. It’s an incredibly interesting way to read a story, and it really lets the reader’s imagination run rampant. The story itself is an intricately woven sci-fi thriller and will not disappoint even the most avid sci-fi reader. The characters are instantly endearing and not just your run of the mill YA archetypes. Illuminae has love, it has intrigue, it has action, it has it all. And yes, it’s just a bunch of files. If you’re a YA reader and you haven’t already read Illuminae (which is pretty unlikely, as I was already quite late to the party) go and get it now. There is a sequel out already, Gemina (see below), a third instalment in development, and probably a movie on the way! Get Illuminae now!
The Magician's Land | Lev Grossman
The final instalment of The Magician’s trilogy was a bit of a slow start for me. After thoroughly enjoying The Magician King, I was so excited to read this, but it probably took me about a hundred pages to really get involved. This time, the story is broken up into several different perspectives, some sharing the same narrative, others telling different parts of the story set in different worlds. After my initial struggle, I eventually found myself 100% engaged by the book and flew through the second two-thirds of its pages. It ended up being a thrilling and satisfying conclusion to Quentin’s story, and it took me places that I really didn’t expect to go. That, I believe, is one of Grossman’s strengths: not following clichéd paths and being able to surprise a reader, despite the fact that the fantasy genre has been done in millions of different ways already. The book ends in a manner that we came to expect from JK Rowling in the Harry Potter series, with multiple loose threads all being tied up in a whirlwind of intersecting plot lines, which I always find so incredibly rewarding as a reader. So, despite my initial reservations, The Magician’s Land turned out to be a really wonderful read! The trilogy, having been touted as ‘Harry Potter for grown-ups', is a must-read for anyone who grew up on Rowling’s stories, and wants to have another - more adult - perspective on what being magical really would be like...
Gemina (The Illuminae Files #2)| Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Gemina was equally as gripping as its predecessor. When I started reading I was shocked to find that the protagonist was a completely different character, one who wasn't present at all in Illuminae. After being so enamoured with the two lead characters in Illuminae, I was a bit disappointed, but only fleetingly. This book, structured as a bunch of 'files', just like Illuminae, had me hooked from the get-go. The story carries on from where Illuminae left off but, as I mentioned, from a different perspective. The characters are lovable and interesting, the plot is full of twists and turns and the end… my God, the END. This book is sci-fi heaven. Anyone who loves theorising about the universe and dimensions and light-speed travel and black holes and worm holes and anything/everything to do with space will be obsessed with this book, I can guarantee it. I don't want to say too much, because we all know how I feel about spoilers… so just read it. Now. However, you MUST read Illuminae first, but then get started on Gemina straight away. They are both big, thick, heavy books, but don’t be daunted by their appearance; the ‘file’ structure makes them look a lot meatier than they are. They are quick, easy, thrilling, thought-provoking reads. Definitely not to be missed! And you have to love the fact that The Illuminae Files are written by two awesome Aussies!
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone | JK Rowling
Well, what can I say? It’s 2017, more than 15 years since I first read the Harry Potter series, and it is definitely time for a re-read. I think I've read the entire series twice (I think?) with the exception of Book Seven, The Deathly Hallows, which I’ve only read once. I’ve also seen the films at least three times each, have been to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in LA, own ALL of the merchandise, and consider myself a HUGE Harry Potter nerd—challenge me to Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit and you’ll see what I mean. On top of that, I’m a proud Hufflepuff, and Hermione Granger is my favourite literary character in history. So, it’s safe to say that I was more than excited to read this book again. Funnily enough, I visited my Mum and Dad the other day in Ballarat and read several chapters of Philosopher's Stone sitting in the exact same chair where I read the book for the very first time, during my summer holidays between Year 9 and 10 (all because a girl I had a crush on said I should read it! Thanks, Kasey!). To top off the whole experience, my beautiful boyfriend Daniel gave me a STUNNING new edition box-set of all seven books (I never owned them all, because I borrowed most of them from the school library) so my re-read was complete with that new book smell... Mmmmm....
And the verdict? Well, it's difficult A) because I'm totally biased, and B) because there is something about Harry Potter that I just cannot explain; it really is, simply put, magical. One of my favourite quotes from the series is: “Words… are our most inexhaustible source of magic”. And that sentiment could not be clearer when reading this book. Something about JK’s storytelling makes the reader want to drop everything and go straight to Hogwarts and live their life forevermore in wizards' robes. Maybe it’s the world and the magic, or maybe it’s the characters; maybe it’s simply the desire to belong to one of the Hogwarts houses (HUFFLEPUFF FOREVER!), I really don’t know. But Harry Potter has always held a huge portion of the world’s population under its literary spell, and it will continue to do so for generations to come.
It was a delight to re-read the first book in the series and to be taken back 15 years to the first time I was introduced to this magical world. It also reminded of how powerful the books are in comparison to the films. All in all, sentimentality aside, it's a truly delightful read. If anyone hasn’t read Harry Potter EVER, do yourself the biggest favour you’ll ever do and read it RIGHT NOW. If you read it as a child, like me, maybe it’s time to revisit this timeless classic? Step back into the Gryffindor Common Room and let yourself be swept up in Harry’s tale once more.
Well, that's all for now! Expect to see Recent Reads #3 in a couple of months! In the meantime, feel free to check out some of my own short stories, all of which are here on my blog. Soon, I'll have a couple of very exciting announcements coming, so make sure you like my Facebook page and follow @tobiasmaddenwriter on Instagram to keep up to date! Feel free to check out my Goodreads Profile as well, to see what else I've read, and what I'm still dying to read!
And, as always, HAPPY READING!