Recent Reads!

November 1, 2016




Here are my thoughts on the books I've read over the last few months. My 'reviews' are not full of spoilers, nor do they go into great detail about the plot. They are written with the intention of maintaining the utmost respect for the authors; I don't mean to say that I won't share my honest opinion about each book, simply that it is nothing but an opinion. 

I write this purely as an insight into my world of reading, in the hopes that you'll discover a book that you weren't familiar with before, and find joy and wonder within its pages!


Without further ado, let the list begin!

Carry On | Rainbow Rowell



 I LOVED this book. LOVED. Initially, I thought it was some kind of weird homo-erotic fan-fiction for Harry Potter, but then I realised its connection to Rowell's other novel, Fangirl, and I was able to relax into it. I read the book in its entirety during a six-night stay in a five-star resort in Ubud, Bali, so it really couldn't have been a lovelier reading experience: sun, poolside cocktails, jungle views, my amazing boyfriend reading beside me... But yes, the book itself was wonderful too!

Simon is a student at a wizarding school not dissimilar to Hogwarts, who is battling constantly with his arch-nemesis, Baz (who he suspects is a vampire). Already a winning formula, right? I loved the characters - each chapter is told from a different perspective - I loved the plot (despite predicting the ending very early on), and I LOVED Rowell's writing.

But most of all, I loved the way Rowell tackled the magic. In Carry On, the basis for all of the spellcasting comes from popular phrases - proverbs, song lyrics etc - that flow in and out of fashion. This style of magic was intriguing and comical and, well... magical! It reminded me instantly of one of my favourite quotes from Harry Potter: "Words... are our most inexhaustible source of magic." I'd hazard a guess that that quote had something to do with Rainbow's thinking too.

Slade House | David Mitchell



I read Slade House (and the next three books on this list) whilst I was working as a guest entertainer on board the Legend of the Seas, sailing around China, Japan and Korea. I can't tell you how divine it was to waltz on up to the open deck and lounge around with my Kindle for five weeks!*

If you've read Cloud Atlas and Bone Clocks (also by Mitchell) you will LOVE Slade House. If not, I would suggest reading the other books first, a) because they are BRILLIANT, and b) you'll actually understand Slade House. Mitchell has created something truly original over the course of these three books (which aren't sequels, by the way, but are jam-packed with Easter Eggs for readers) and Slade House takes the most in-depth look into the lives of a certain breed of people whose souls can migrate from one person to another.

If, like me, you love fantasy and sci-fi, and don't mind reading half an entire novel before you have any clue what's actually happening - or what the book is even about - then dive into some David Mitchell. His novels span centuries, continents and consciousnesses, and they are nothing short of breathtaking!

Barracuda | Christos Tsiolkas



So, I should preface these comments by saying that I only read half of this book. I literally couldn't force myself to keep reading it. I enjoyed the first part of the novel, and its in-depth examination of a talented-yet-troubled, elite level high school swimmer, but it lost me after that. The protagonist tackles with his own sexuality, home life, school life, and the pressures of being an elite athlete, but then when he is faced with failure he becomes incredibly annoying. Infuriating, even. He's one of those characters you kind of wish you could punch...

I surround myself, in life, with nothing but the most positive and inspiring people; to see someone (fictional or otherwise) deal with ONE failure so poorly - when everyone I know deals with rejection on a day-to-day basis - was far too frustrating for me.

I understand that this is probably the point. To show the reader that dealing with things in this way is destructive and ridiculous. But it doesn't make for happy reading, I can tell you that.

Barracuda has, however, been made into a television mini-series in Australia now, so I might watch that... at least then I'll get to see how the story finishes!

Fangirl | Rainbow Rowell



Well wasn't this a divine novel?! After reading Carry On, I knew that I had to read the book that first brought the characters of Baz and Simon into existence.

I love the concept of Fangirl: a young fan-fiction writer struggles to find her own voice in college writing classes, feeling like she is nothing without someone else's story. The plot is highly engaging, the characters beautifully realised, and the dialogue flawless. The novel is peppered with snippets of the protagonist Cath's fan-fiction stories, providing a great introduction to the characters in Carry On if you haven't read it, or fun little treats along the way if you have!

Besides being about Cath's writing, Fangirl is about her dealing with her complicated relationships (especially with her mother), and navigating her way through teenage life, living in the shadow of her outgoing twin sister. It's a truly wonderful novel, especially if, like Cath, you're a young writer trying to find your own voice!

Personally, I'm glad that I read Carry On first because I feel like a familiarity with Baz, Simon and their world enriches the reading experience of Fangirl. Not essential, but I'd say definitely advised.

Captive Prince | CS Pacat



Now, this series has quite the hype surrounding it, especially given that it's written by an Aussie author. For that reason, I hate to admit that I didn't really enjoy the first book, Captive Prince. There certain things I did like about it, but not enough to make me want to continue reading the series.

I was very excited to read the novel, as it has been touted as one of the best M/M romance books around at the moment, but it really didn't hit the mark for me. I found the pace too slow, the plot a little meandering, and the characters a bit cliched. It's kind of like Game of Thrones, with the addition of some male sex-slaves...

As a gay man, I find it intriguing that a lot of the most popular M/M novels are written by women... I understand that you don't have to be gay to be able to write about two men in love (just as you don't have to be a wizard to write about wizardry) but I do find it very interesting. I feel like if a man had penned a lesbian love story, no one would buy it (neither figuratively nor literally). Now, I'm not saying it can't/shouldn't be done, but I do find it intriguing nonetheless...

All of that notwithstanding, the thing I liked most about Captive Prince was the way it handled sexuality in a very different manner to that which I'd read before. Living in Australia, where the line between gay and straight is incredibly black and white (and still written into LAWS - don't even get me started) it was great to read a tale about a world where fluid sexuality is not only commonplace, but celebrated!

I've been told the second and third novels in the series are incredible, but I think I have too many other things on my to-read list to jump back into Pacat's tale just yet.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child | JK Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany



Here's a contentious one. Some fans loved it (myself included) and others despised it, claiming that it has no right to be considered part of the Wizarding World canon. I think that a lot of people forgot - despite constantly stating that they didn't forget - that this is a play. And no matter how wonderful a script is, you don't see its true form unless you see it performed live. Scripts are, after all, empty husks, framework; they are emotionless, description-less - literally just words on a page. They need sets and lighting and actors to fully bring them into being.

I was fortunate enough (blessed by a miracle of theatre ticketing) to see Cursed Child performed at the Palace Theatre in London in September. And Oh. My. God. It was absolutely mind-blowing. And not just the magic (which was just - I mean - how? - GAH) but the performances too. I cried from go to woe. It was overwhelming in every way. I'd urge any haters out there to get themselves to the UK and see the show live, if it weren't sold out until the end of 2017. I know they'd eat their own (sorting) hats.

Eleanor & Park | Rainbow Rowell



I LOVED this book. Obviously, Rainbow Rowell is my favourite author of the year (I even got my copy of Eleanor & Park signed at the Melbourne Writer's Festival!) and this book was no exception.

It is such a unique, heartbreaking and hilarious tale of teenage love. It is a triumph of non-cliched writing. It has everything I've come to expect from Rowell: flawless dialogue; witty storytelling; twists and turns; and a whole lot of heart and soul.

Set in the '80's, the story of Eleanor's and Park's relationship is very different, and very special. In a way, I found this made it easier to connect with the story, because (as we all know) every relationship is different, and is full of its own little quirks and idiosyncrasies.

If you like Rowell's other books, this one is a must read. If you haven't read any of her novels before, this is a great starting point!

Every Day | David Levithan



After seeing David Levithan (along with Rainbow Rowell and Lev Grossman, like, WOW!) at the Melbourne Writer's Festival, I was very excited to read one his most famous novels, Every Day.

The story follows a character simply called 'A', who wakes up in the body of a different person every single day.

For me, it was a really interesting examination of teenage life, relationships and the fluidity of sexuality (in a very different way to Pacat's Captive Prince). Whilst I found the plot a little predictable at times, I still thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. The most engaging chapters, for me, involved the interactions between 'A' and his/her host bodies, and the consequences of his/her actions during the time spent inhabiting them. In particular, I loved the chapter that described what it felt like to be inside the mind of a troubled teenager who was planning to commit suicide.

A very different book that is well worth reading!!

The Magicians | Lev Grossman



I read The Magicians over quite a long period of time, interrupted by travel, work, and 'general life stuff', so I feel like I wasn't as invested as I should have been. That being said, it's a really great book, and I really, really enjoyed it!

The beginning is quite thrilling and wondrous (in the same way that Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is thrilling and wondrous) full of discoveries and exploring. The middle section slumps a little bit, though the energy reflects the lives of the characters at that point in the story too, so perhaps it was a conscious decision by Grossman? (and that was when I was the busiest, so perhaps it was just me!) but the excitement really ramps up towards the climax of the novel, and it ends very well!

It's full of the kind of plot twists that we've come to expect from JK Rowling's writing, and she has obviously had quite an influence on Grossman and the Magicians (which he stated at the Writer's Festival; I'm not making things up).

If you love Harry Potter, and, like me, read it when you were a teenager and are now in your (cough) late 20's, you'll love The Magicians. It really is like a Harry Potter for grown-ups, set at a college for witches in wizards in upstate New York.

Grossman's world is grittier, grungier, sexier, more sarcastic and a quite a lot darker than the Wizarding World JK presented to us. It delves not only into the magical education of the protagonist but then also what happens when he graduates and realises there isn't much use for a wizard in the real world after all...

Definitely give this series a go, I'm on the second book (The Magician King) right now, and it's just as good!

Big Magic | Elizabeth Spencer



Big Magic is the only non-fiction book I've read recently. Written by Elizabeth Gilbert, the fantastic and insightful woman who penned Eat, Pray, Love, it examines what it is to live a creative life, and how to be open to all of the inspiration the universe is throwing at you on a daily basis.

This is a MUST READ for any budding young writer. I can't tell you how inspired I was reading this book! One of the things I loved most was the way Spencer described the process of writing a novel, not as torture or slow suicide (as so many writers often do) but as a fun, joyous, disciplined experience. It was such a relief to hear from someone so successful that I won't have to slit my wrists or hide in a dark cave to be able to write a wonderful novel...

One of my favourite chapters in the book was a story involving a lobster, a party and a Queen. I don't want to spoil anything, but I'm sure it'll give you a good chuckle too!

Despite most of the anecdotes in the book being about writing, I know that any creative person - whether you be a singer, dancer, composer, flautist, or crochet whiz - will get a LOT out of this book.

Thanks must go to my best friend Ashleigh for sending me this book from London as a birthday gift! What an absolute treat!

So... that's pretty much everything I've read in the last few months! It's a bit of a mixed bag of genre and style, but I'm sure you could all find something new and wonderful in there! Let me know your thoughts if you've read any of these, or if you decide to give any of them a go!


Feel free to check out my Goodreads Profile to see what else I've read, and what I'm still dying to read!



And, as always, Happy Reading!!!



* My Kindle was actually STOLEN from the buffet on the ship by a passenger. After 36hrs of reviewing video footage, the security team tracked down the man who stole it and returned it to me, safe and sound. I couldn't have been more thankful for their efforts! I know it's just a Kindle, but it's travelled with me to three different continents, and helped me through some pretty tough times!





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© 2016 by Tobias Madden. Headshots by Maryna Rothe, 2015.