Like most writers, we at WriteOnSisters are all big readers. The end of the year brings reflection and a sense of accomplishment; we have navigated another fun and rewarding year of books and blogging. To do something a bit different this month, we decided to pick books off the Goodreads Best Books of 2014 list.
Robin’s Pick: ISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER by Stephanie Perkins
This is the third (and reportedly last) companion book in the Anna and the French Kiss series. This time we follow high school senior Isla. Super smart, but socially awkward, the shy little Isla finally attracts the attentions of Josh, the slacker, bad boy artist she’s adored from afar since freshman year.
Although opposites, the pair fall madly in love and the book is really about their rocky path to a Happy Ever After ending. On the plus side the book is set in a host of wonderful locations: Paris, New York, and Barcelona. I found the few chapters set in Barcelona represented the best of the book’s settings, and I really enjoyed that section. Also all the lead characters from the first two books make cameos for a handful of pages at the end of this book, which I’m sure delights fan of the series.
I had high hopes for this book, but sadly it lacked enough action or conflict to keep me interested. Granted any book that tells me up front it ends in a HEA isn’t aiming to keep me on the edge of my seat, but I do expect a bit more than I got in the way of plot. I’m willing to concede lots of other readers found Josh very crush worthy and Isla adorable, so if you’re already a fan of the series, my bet is you will want to see it to the end. However, don’t expect to be as entertained by Isla’s journey as you were by Anna’s.
Heather’s Pick: RED RISING by Pierce Brown
Like Robin blogged about here, I too have had a string of disappointing reads. Even “Best Of” lists don’t guarantee I’ll love – or even like – the book. But with fingers crossed, I selected RED RISING from Goodreads Best Of YA Fantasy list.
I was not disappointed. This book is a tour de force, a mix of HUNGER GAMES and DIVERGENT, but with a world so unique and a story so well crafted that it can’t be shelved under “just another YA dystopia”. Nope. This novel is epic.
It takes place hundreds of years in the future on Mars. The main character, Darrow, is the lowest caste of human – a Red. He lives and works miles underground in the mines preparing Mars for human inhabitation, until he discovers that Mars has been inhabited for decades, maybe centuries, and the Reds aren’t preparing it for civilization, they’re simply slaves. Thus begins the journey of turning Darrow, a powerless Red, into an impressive Gold (top caste) so that he can infiltrate and take them down.
It’s a classic underdog-takes-on-the-world story.
A lot of people die in this book. There’s violence and cruelty. But there’s also redeeming transformation when our hero figures out how to overcome instead of surrender to the Golds’ worst characteristics. In my opinion, this is what makes the book great. It’s not just exciting plot twists, duplicitous characters and clever reveals, though I enjoyed all that too, it’s that the hero grows. This makes Darrow a hero worth rooting for!
If you love epic fantasy or political intrigue or action thrillers or all three, this book is for you. I’m actually going to read it again so I can study the expert plotting of the story. Yep, it was that good.
Caryn’s Pick: SKIN GAME by Jim Butcher
Jim Butcher’s newest installment is number 15 in the well known urban fantasy series: The Dresden Files. I haven’t read them all, mostly I’ve bookended the series, a few at the beginning and now this last one.
The story begins on a mysterious island where Harry has been ordained as the warden of a frozen prison for some of the Underworld’s most notorious creatures. Butcher paints a vivid world to wander through, not over-doing description, but bringing you into his fantasy world with skill and aplomb.
Harry is also saddled with the dubious job of being the Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. Mab trades Harry’s skill to pay off one of her debts and forces him to help a group of supernatural villains break into a high-security vault. The one in Nevernever. It’s a smash and grab job to recover an important artifact in the vault that just happens to belong to Hades, Lord of the Underworld. But Harry suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that he and his crew will not survive the experience.
I’ll admit a lot has happened to Harry since the first few books, when he was a struggling private eye type, not a semi-supernatural string-puller who hangs out with deities on a regular basis. It seems that Butcher is now writing something more like… epic urban fantasy, rather than paranormal investigation.
I didn’t find the antagonist terribly threatening or scary, more like a mobster than a supernatural creature, but the other monsters? Definitely. Butcher has the uncanny ability to dream up creepy beasts who do terrible things to humans, and wizards too. The kind that will give you nightmares.
Butcher had me intrigued, wondering what the valued commodity hidden in that vault was and why they are so desperate to steal it. The ending has an interesting twist, and the book definitely kept me hooked until the very end.
I have a confession to make: I always thought this was a YA series. Maybe it’s because it’s written in first person like so many YA novels and the tone is similar too. So when I read an explicit sex scene (which turns out to be a dream…I hate that!), I took pause. The early books seemed safe for a YA reader but now that I’ve done a little research I understand it is an adult fantasy series…more of an adult Harry Potter.
Overall, I recommend this book, and the entire series. One of these days I might just snuggle in and catch up on Harry’s escapades over the last few years. Did I tell you how much I love Harry? Oh yeah. I did.