My Top Ten Books Read In 2015 (and mini-reviews!)

Happy New Year, everyone! Wow – I’ve read a record 14 books in 2015! (That’s a lot for me. Hey, I’m a movie blogger – not a book blogger). 🙂

I’m really bad about getting around to doing book reviews so I’ve only reviewed a few of these (I’ve included links to the full reviews I have done). For the remainder, I figured I’d just do some very short mini-reviews right here right now. And, as my regulars know, my Top Ten lists rarely contain ten things so it seemed stupid to ignore four books when I’ve only read 14.

So here are My Top Ten (14…) Books Read In 2015, counting down to my favorite:

14. The Gospel According To Drew Barrymore by Pippa Wright

I believe this is what they call “chick lit”? Which isn’t very “me” but my hubby picked this up for me based on the title since he knows I’m a fan of Drew Barrymore. I thought that was very sweet & thoughful of him! 🙂 Anyway, I really liked the concept. Through flashbacks, we watch the relationship develop between two (40ish?) best friends. They’re very different from one another but we see how they bonded over Drew Barrymore movies at various points in their lives (such as E.T. & Poison Ivy). Unfortunately, the book just isn’t very good. I didn’t like one of the women and the Drew Barrymore gimmick really did feel like nothing more than a gimmick – the references to her felt awkward & forced. It was a good idea but without that gimmick, you’re left with two characters I really didn’t give a crap about. My Rating: 2/5

13. Florence & Giles by John Harding

I grabbed this from the library as I’d been wanting to read it for a while based on The Times quote on the front cover: “Imagine The Turn Of The Screw reworked by Edgar Allan Poe”. It sounded like it would be all gothic & atmospheric but it was pretty disappointing. A young girl in the late 1800s must protect her younger brother from a sinister & otherworldly new governess after the mysterious death of the previous woman who cared for them. The girl (and narrator if I remember correctly??) isn’t allowed to read but teaches herself & reads loads of books in secret. It’s caused her to develop a strange sort of language of her own and having to read the book with all her odd words took some getting used to (and was slightly annoying). The girl also isn’t that easy to like and the book is extremely slow until finally picking up in the final half. It was a good story but not a very fun read. I actually think it could make for a great film if the right people were involved. My Rating: 2.5/5

12. The Shock Of The Fall by Nathan Filer

My favorite books to read are always horror, sci-fi or fantasy (which will be obvious when we get to the top of my list) but I do try to sometimes read bestsellers or ones that have awards slapped on their covers (like this one) which are probably bullshit half the time anyway. This is an example of a book that was pretty good and plenty of people probably liked it but, like the previous book, it just didn’t really work for me. Oh! I also judge books by their covers and this has a good one. And I was intrigued by the back cover (which I’ve grabbed here from Goodreads): “I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.” See? Sounds interesting. This is a book where you’ll easily find out what it’s about if you read anything whatsoever about it but if you like knowing nothing other than what’s on the back cover, skip over this next part. SPOILER: This book is about mental illness (schizophrenia) and told from the viewpoint of the young adult (Matt) who is suffering from it. It’s a fairly unique book & I’d recommend it if it sounds to you like one you’d like. I have to say it’s actually a better book than my next two choices but, as always, I rank mainly by my level of enjoyment & I found myself not really wanting to pick this one up much so it took me quite a long time to finish. My Rating: 3/5

11. The Maze Runner by James Dashner

I admit to enjoying Young Adult books, especially as the current trend seems to be YA books that are dystopian and/or post-apocalyptic. I love dystopian and/or post-apocalyptic! I don’t normally do it this way around but I saw The Maze Runner movie first and I liked it so decided to read the books. Well, I’ve read the first two so far and will continue in order to see how they end but I’ve certainly read far better YA books. I also get the feeling that the story is going nowhere plus the author has a strange writing style that many people don’t seem to like. I’ve reviewed this & The Scorch Trials in full if you want to click on the links. My Rating: 2.5/5

10. The Scorch Trials by James Dashner

This & The Maze Runner are pretty interchangeable but I suppose I’ve put this higher as reading it was a bit more enjoyable since I didn’t see the movie first so didn’t know what would happen. Meh. Yeah. Again, not the greatest book… I just like the overall concept, which is why I’m continuing with the series. My Rating: 2.5/5

9. The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Not to be all snobby as I certainly don’t read many “worthy” classics or anything but this looked like one of those supermarket books you see old ladies reading on the bus. Well, I suppose it kind of is but, screw it, I AM an old lady on a bus! The basic story is simple: Retired Harold Fry decides to make a pilgrimage by foot across most of England to visit an old work colleague & friend named Queenie, who has written him to say that she is dying. It was a slow read to start but I was fairly hooked as Harold got closer & closer to reaching his destination. As you may expect, Harold goes on a “journey of self-discovery” during his long walk and this was the best thing about the book and was handled quite well. Something becomes obvious pretty early on but it made me want to keep reading to find out exactly what happened & how. My Rating: 3/5

8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I’ve just finished this book and I can see why some people have told me that they really loved it. I wanted to like it a little more than I did. I’ll say that Zusak did a great job developing some rich characters that I very much cared about. Liesel, a young girl in WWII Germany, is the central character and I liked her strong will. Even better, though, were the characters Liesel loved most (her foster parents and best friend plus two other important characters I won’t mention to avoid any spoilers). Unfortunately, despite some great characters, I felt something that I can’t quite put my finger on was “missing” from this book. I think the problem was that it was narrated by Death (as in, The Grim Reaper). It’s a better “gimmick” than the Drew Barrymore thing above and I didn’t mind it at first but, in the end, I think it actually got in the way of what was a good enough story without any gimmicks. Also, the ending felt rather abrupt & rushed after this long journey that we’ve just gone on with all these characters (it’s a pretty thick book). It was a good book & I’m interested in seeing the movie now but I wish it was higher on this list. My Rating: 3.5/5

7. Tank Girl by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin

This is the second (of two!) graphic novels that I’ve read (the other being Watchmen). Wait – is this a graphic novel? It’s more of a collection of several comics… I think?? Is there a difference? This sort of thing is something I have NO knowledge in but I have to say that I did enjoy Tank Girl. She’s a cool character and I really appreciated the (inappropriate) humor (it took me a while to read it all as I had to keep putting it away someplace where my young daughter wouldn’t grab it). I mean, Tank Girl has sex with a kangaroo. Whaaaat? It’s pretty damn bizarre but it’s fun and I was entertained. I suppose I should watch the horrible-looking movie that doesn’t appear to resemble the comic much now? Or… Should I not?? My Rating: 3.5/5

6. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

I read my first two Joe Hill books this year & I have to say that, so far, I may end up almost liking his work as much as his dad’s. This one seems to be a favorite but I enjoyed the other book more and found that I didn’t really care that much about the characters in this. But it’s a good & very original story. You can read my full review at the above link. My Rating: 4/5

5. Revival by Stephen King

Stephen King is and always will be my favorite author so I’m going to put a book of his fairly high on any list. I’ve not yet reviewed this one but I will try to do a full review soon as it’s a King book so I’ll keep this short. For now I’ll say that this isn’t one of his best (it probably ranks somewhere in the lower middle for me if I were to do a list of all the King books I’ve read). I find that I’m quite often a little  disappointed with how King’s books end and this one has the same problem of starting out great but then kind of fizzling out at the end. I’ll say that King once again draws a very detailed picture of small town American life which I can always relate to in his books and what makes me love his work so much. I was very much drawn into this small town where a young boy and tragic preacher reside. I just wish these two main characters had remained as interesting in the second half of the book as they grew older (the book spans many years). Well, I enjoyed it anyway – read it if you love King. I enjoyed it more than his son’s NOS4A2 but will admit that Hill’s book was probably a little better than this one. My Rating: 3.5/5

4. Horns by Joe Hill

I suppose Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 is a slightly better book than Revival and also Horns but I read this one first & actually enjoyed it the most of this father/son trio that I read this year. It’s weird, especially as it gets to the end, and not everyone would like it but it was quite refreshing to read something so totally unique & unpredictable. You can read my full double review of this and NOS4A2 at the above link. My Rating: 4/5

3. Tuf Voyaging by George R.R. Martin

This is the first and only George R.R. Martin book I’ve ever read and I loved it! I got the Game Of Thrones book last Christmas but haven’t yet had the energy to embark on that massive journey so when a woman I work with brought in a bunch of books that she was getting rid of, I was excited to see this standalone Martin book so I could see what his work was like. I can only compare this to the Game Of Thrones TV show but I’d have to say it’s quite different from that. This is sci-fi comedy! I’ve read very few books in this genre but one happens to be my all-time favorite book (The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy) so this one was perfect for me and I enjoyed it immensely. I suppose I also owe this one a full-length review at some point… I’ll just say that, although Martin’s books are clearly popular, I had no idea of what a great writer this guy really is and it has me definitely wanting to read more of his stuff. I’ll also admit this: I’m a casual reader & clearly like light & easy entertainment. My vocabulary is limited (as evidenced by my so-called “reviews” 😉 ) and I’ve never had to look up so many words for their definitions while reading a book as I did while reading this. (Not tons, maybe six or seven words). But that’s awesome – I don’t have to do that with my YA books! This guy truly has a great way with words and his characters (especially Tuf) felt so alive. And it was actually funny! After watching Game Of Thrones, full of so much tragic death, I wasn’t sure what to expect of a sci-fi comedy from the same author. Plus the story itself had me hooked. Loved it. Can anyone recommend any of his other work? My Rating: 4.5/5

2. The Martian by Andy Weir

I can’t believe I never had a chance to watch this film considering how much I loved the book! Oh well – I’ll catch it at some point. I did at least review this book in full so I can keep this short. I guess I really do love my sci-fi comedies (although this is more sci-fi than comedy but I loved the central character’s amazing sense of humor). I find very few books to be perfect (I’m almost always disappointed with the endings) but I really can’t fault this one in any way other than it ending too abruptly. But I suppose that’s because I was enjoying it so much. The Martian is easily now an all-time favorite of mine and I highly recommend it. My Rating: 5/5

1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I’m so disappointed in myself for not getting around to reviewing this yet even though it’s the very first book I read after receiving it for Christmas last year. Thanks to anyone who has actually read this (really long & rambling) post! I’m sorry to do this to you now at my number one but I’m not going to say much about this one. Yet. It deserves a full-length review from me as it’s my favorite book in a very long time & nothing could be more “ME“! This was written for Eighties-loving geeks like me by an Eighties-loving geek and I absolutely adored it. I had so much fun reading this one. I hope the movie does it justice! My Rating: 5/5

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NOS4A2 & Horns by Joe Hill (Book Reviews)

I finally read my first two Joe Hill books this year. His father, Stephen King, has been my favorite author for years and I can be a little stuck in my ways so I wasn’t overly excited at checking his stuff out as I already had a favorite horror author & didn’t need another one. I figured there was no way he could top his dad’s stuff anyway.

It must suck being compared to your famous parents all the time but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Stephen King is his father, especially when he’s gone into the exact same field as his dad with these two books. Well, neither of these books topped his dad’s work for me but they were still really good. Okay, I’ll admit that they top some of his dad’s not-so-good books but they’re not as good as King’s very best. Those here who have read & recommended these two books to me may be surprised at which one I liked more, though, and I’ll try to explain why. Let’s talk about them! 🙂

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (aka U.K. title NOS4R2)

What It’s About: (from the back cover)
Young Victoria McQueen has a gift for finding things. All she has to do is ride her bike through the Shorter Way Bridge and she’ll come out wherever she needs to be… it’s an ability she keeps secret because no one would understand it. Until she discovers she’s not the only one with a special gift.

Charlie Manx takes children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with its NOS4R2 vanity plate, driving them away from their families, their homes, even their own humanity. When they reach their destination they’ve changed, utterly. They’ve become Charlie’s children: as unstoppable and insane as Manx himself.

Only one kid ever escaped Charlie Manx: Vic McQueen. But the end of that nightmare was just the beginning of their life-and-death battle of wills… a battle that explodes a quarter century later. Because now Manx has taken Vic’s son. And Vic McQueen is going to get him back. Or die trying.

My Thoughts:

**I first want to say it’s weird that this book is called NOS4R2 in the U.K. but I’ll use A2 for the review. I just wanted to share this story: I got this book from my husband & my daughter was curious about it. Obviously, it’s a nasty horror book not for kids so he told her it was about “C-3PO & R2-D2 on a quest to find a nose for R2, everyone’s favorite little droid“. Too cute.** 🙂

This book is definitely the better of these two, which I’m sure most everyone would agree with. I never read any book reviews online other than from a few bloggers I follow but I’m pretty sure I remember them saying this one was better… Although it contains one of the two topics I normally avoid in books & movies, children being harmed (rape being the other thing, which is in Horns), I did enjoy the book and found it to be an interesting & original story. I mean, it’s supernatural – I can handle “horror” and murder & all that stuff in the supernatural realm but I’m not the type you’ll ever find reading a “true crime” type of story. I don’t know – I can’t explain it. Maybe I’m weird. Or I suppose I can only handle evil when it’s not something that could happen in real life. But I do love the supernatural and this book has plenty of that. My favorite bits involved the main character, Vic McQueen, riding her bike through a covered bridge that only she can see in order to find things that people have lost.

The bridge and Vic as a child are in the first half of the book, which I found to be much stronger than the second half. I suppose it depends on what you prefer but I thought Hill did a better job setting things up in the first half of the book. Vic was a sympathetic child with a difficult life and it reminded me of the way in which Stephen King develops such rich characters and an overall setting that’s so real that it feels like you’re going to set down his book & then open your front door to find you’re in Castle Rock. I could so easily picture Vic’s “Shorter Way Bridge” and thought this book was on its way to being pretty damn fantastic at first. Unfortunately, as I often find with a lot of King’s work as well, it loses its way a bit halfway through as the action picks up and we see much more of the character of Charlie Manx. Like I say, though, it depends on what you want from a book and I’m sure many people prefer the second half – I just found myself losing interest in Manx’s story and found the book a little longer than was necessary.

I know I keep bringing up Stephen King in this review but that’s because NOS4A2 feels so much like a King book. Indeed, if you love King like I do, this is the Joe Hill book I’d recommend to you of these two. I think my main complaint is that it’s too similar to his dad’s work. We already have a Stephen King and he’s great so I don’t really want another one of him. I think that’s a big part of the reason why, although NOS4A2 is more well-written and has, I suppose, the more “accessible” storyline (as far as strange & supernatural stories go), I enjoyed Horns more. Horns is utterly bizarre and I can see why it would maybe be the less popular of these two but I felt like I was reading a book by a whole new author I’d never read before. I liked that!

NOS4A2 is a good book, though, so don’t let my somewhat negative-sounding review keep you from reading it if you think you’d like it. I just happened to read a King book (Revival) as well as this & Horns all within a few months of each other so I’m going to be comparing them all in my mind. I’ll be honest, though, and admit that this was better than Revival was overall, although I preferred a storyline that didn’t involve a child “murderer” (of sorts…). I can see why this is the Joe Hill book I’ve seen recommended the most.

My Rating: 4/5

Horns by Joe Hill

What It’s About: (from the back cover)
Once, Ig lived the life of the blessed: born into privilege, he had security and wealth and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more – he had the love of Merrin Williams, a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

Then beautiful, vivacious Merrin was gone – raped and murdered, under inexplicable circumstances – and Ig was the only suspect. He was never tried for the crime, but in the court of public opinion, he was and always would be guilty.

But now Ig can hear people’s deepest, darkest secrets and means to use this ability to find whoever killed Merrin.

It’s time for a little revenge. It’s time the devil had his due.

My Thoughts:

I won’t talk about Stephen King in this review. Promise! Because this book doesn’t feel like a Stephen King book. Horns is, well, pretty damn bonkers. It’s a bit all over the place as well & seems to lack focus. Plus it gets pretty seriously “What the fuuuuuuck?” at the end.

Geez, I’m making it sound so good! Well, it’s not one that everyone will like but I enjoyed it quite a bit despite its obvious flaws. And there’s no being evil to children in this one! There’s a rape, however. I think Hill handles that bit alright (it’s not gratuitous from what I remember) but he makes the character of murdered Merrin far too “perfect” and the “ideal girlfriend”, which didn’t feel real. I didn’t exactly find any of the characters very well developed in this one beyond Ig and maybe his brother somewhat. I think I just really liked the story and the fact that I’ve never really read another one quite like it. I also have to say that I really liked the love story. That’s pretty typical of me – screw shit like The Notebook & give me a fucked-up love story instead!

I think I’ll keep this one short as I’ll probably be discussing it a little more when I review the movie next week. I can tell you now that the film adaptation started out so good then ended up so bad. What a disappointment! I suppose it was a difficult one to adapt, especially near the end when it gets so weird but they changed too much with certain characters.

As for the book, the characters are a little too one-dimensional but, hey, when you’re dealing with a guy sprouting Satanic horns out of his head, the purely good vs purely evil thing works out okay. I gotta say that Hill & his father must have a pretty low opinion of humanity – when Ig sprouts his horns & starts hearing people’s deepest & darkest thoughts, it seems that everyone is a complete asshole deep down if not a complete psycho. Normally this would annoy me (it’s why I actually hated King’s Under The Dome – those people were awful) but it somehow works in Horns. The main focus anyway is the love story between Ig and Merrin and then Ig’s desire to find her killer. It’s sort of a “revenge” story and I often like those. Especially a revenge love story.

Yeah… I’ve only just now realized why I liked this – it reminded me of The Crow (the movie), which I adore. I want a supernatural devil-man or a dead crow-man to avenge my death! That’s totally romantic. (The Crow is much better, though).

Oh shit – I mentioned Stephen King in this review after I promised I that wouldn’t. Oops.

My Rating: 4/5


(It was also a little too weird having Harry Potter playing Ig)

Hey, everyone – it’s October tomorrow so I’ll be starting my October Horrorfest! I figure I can’t skip out on reviewing any big new non-horror releases for a whole month but, besides a couple of things like The Martian, it’ll be ALL HORROR, baby! And it’ll be truly horrific as I’ve unfortunately ended up watching a load of shit in preparation, which wasn’t my intention.

I’m going to stick with my little routine and have Tuesdays be my own IMDB Top 250 reviews (horror movies only) and Thursdays be Top Ten Lists (all horror-related of course). But I’ll be skipping Music Video Friday as there isn’t much I could do beyond Michael Jackson’s Thriller but, hey, my music video posts get no love anyway. Well, I love ’em! 😉 So, see you all tomorrow for my first Horror Top Ten of the month. 🙂