Best Reads of 2014

This is a selfish list… but here are the books that I’ve read during the 2014 Calendar Year. My goal was to read 50 books this year (A good writer has to be a good reader). These are the books I’ve read, enjoyed, and am now ranking for your potential reading pleasure:

1. Red Rising by Pierce Brown- From start to finish, I was enthralled. As mad that I have to wait for the second book as I am about waiting for George R.R. Martin’s The Winds of Winter.

2. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest- It might have just been the new world of steampunk, it might have been the flashbang style of what happens inside the city walls, but whatever it was… it worked.

3. The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater- I think she had the most likeable band of characters that I’ve read in a long time. It helps that her prose is full of clever turns of phrase and authentic interactions.

4. The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller- Considering I just got married in March, this makes sense. What a great book for understanding and gaining perspective on marriage.

5. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.- Finally read this. Dark and haunting and, at times, mystifying. But his writing is so good that you have to read it just to see a style that is borderline unachievable.

6. The Tarot Accounts by Keith Dupuis- A member of my writing group, Keith just finished his first book in the past few weeks. The world sincerely needs to be on the look out for his work. The stories of Rune and Brand will be bestsellers in no time.

7. The Daedalus Incident by Michael Martinez- Hard to figure out where to put this one! It was such a teasing, pleasurable combination of genres. I didn’t love one of the viewpoint characters though, and that caused it to slide a little in my eyes.

8. Looking for Alaska by John Green- I get the hype on him and totally understand now why my students find his work so appealing. It’s raw and unapologetic in its approach to a younger generation that is facing real life problems. I loved the characters, but also think his main way of interesting the audience in his characters is a bit cheap. Are there kids that have ridiculous and amazing talents? Of course. But a kid who memorizes the last words of famous historical figures? It’s plausible, but it made Pudge feel a little fake to me.

9. The Darwin Elevator by Jason Hough- The fact that this even cracks the top 10 is a credit to Jason’s ability. I’m just not that into science fiction, but I loved his characters. I actually thought the major weakness of his character was the major weakness that my character suffers from… A steady person that happens to be in the midst of incredible circumstances. Our characters lack that poetic individuality that makes them a long-lasting favorite in the eyes of an audience.

10. Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb- Seriously a treat to dive down into what I would consider foundational fantasy. As with any book of this style, there are times where the description weighs a hundred pounds and the pace is too slow. But who wouldn’t want to be trained by Chade? Cool story and fun to read.

10. His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire) by Naomi Novik- Once again, the idea of this world is gripping and fascinating. Dragon air forces during Napoleonic times? Yes, please. The climax doesn’t pay off though, and the style can be weighty at times.

11. The Gunslinger by Stephen King- The prose in this story is just easy and interesting. There are some creative worldbuilding elements, but I struggled to fully enjoy them. A lot of chasing that amounts to little pay off.

12. Divergent by Veronica Roth- I’m sorry, but it just isn’t fun to read. I felt the same way about it that I felt about Eragon after reading Game of Thrones. You just can’t go back to something like that. I get why the book is popular, but I prefer the depth of almost every book above this one.

It’s May and I’ve only read 16 books… Good thing the summer is almost here.

Honorable Mentions Just Because I Read Them For Class and They Don’t Count:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Romeo and Juliet by Billy Shakespeare

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Book Review: Red Rising

I was introduced to Pierce Brown’s novel, Red Rising, by a member of my writing group. Keith described it saying, “You want to be mad at it for being like Hunger Games, but it’s better.” The summation of this review is that Keith was right.

The story takes place on dystopian Mars. Our narrator, Darrow, is a Red. Being part of the lowest of a color-coded caste system, he and his people work deep in the bowels of a colony on Mars. Circumstances lead Darrow to join a revolutionary group that will use his skills and abilities to infiltrate the Golds by enlisting him in the “Institute”, an arena-like school for the social elite.

Here’s what I loved about this book:

1. Character motivation-  The Hunger Games gets off to a cleaner start than this novel. The system of selection, Katniss’ sacrifice, are all much cleaner than Darrow’s awakening into a revolutionary. However, Brown does a much, much better job of building a character that burns with anger over what happened to him and his people. Katniss has an embittered point of view that goes from hopeless to triumphant. Darrow gives us fire and passion throughout, and is far easier to root for.

2. Violence- Like many dystopians in the Young Adult genre, this book features immense amounts of violence. My take? If you’re going to have the violence in there, it should at least make sense and be well done. The Hunger Games pits young children against each other in a believable, violent setting. Red Rising does the same, only it does it better. The men and women heading into this arena are all built for violence. The system their mentors put them through is cruel and merciless. Brown does a far better job of providing us with tactics, gruesome descriptions, and turned tables. I think what stood out is how he can slow down those scenes and display what’s happening. His descriptive writing really reaches a level that Collins can’t touch.

3. Supporting Cast- To me, this was the major difference. If you think about the characters around Katniss, they’re okay. Peeta? He’s got that politician polish to him. Gale has that “revolutionary” thing going. Haymitch was a clever derivation from the “wise mentor” role. Some of the opponents even fascinate us in book one… Rue is heart-breaking and Foxface is a survivor and Cato is brutal and…. they all lack depth! They’re forgettable in the end. Not the supporting cast in Red Rising. Cassius is fascinating, and has a reason to hate Darrow that is undiscovered. Sevro is a chilling, demon of a character that we can’t help but love. Titan is terrifying, but only a shadow of greater evils to be faced. I was surprised by how well-done all of Brown’s characters were. Really easy to love or hate, but infinitely followable and understandable.

4. The World- Authenticity of language and world-building terms were just wonderful in this book. He had me wanting to say “bloodydamn” or “gorydamn”. I wanted to fight the Golds alongside the Reds. I wanted to talk in the HighSpeak with Cassius. There is just an infinitely cool and well-built world in this book by Pierce Brown.

In conclusion, if you liked The Hunger Games at all, you’ve found the next and better book to read. I really believe that this book outshines it’s predecessor in word for word writing. I’ll never deny The Hunger Games as a brilliant and entertaining book. It’s just not as clever as what Brown has done, and not nearly as well-written. Already looking forward to the sequel!