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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Top Ten YA reads for 2014

Out of the thirty five books I completed in 2014, I’ve narrowed my list down to eleven (had to throw in an honorable mention.) I’ll start with #10 and work my way back leaving the honorable mention for last.  

An interesting read to be sure.  Kayla, the main character opts out of receiving the barcode tattoo and becomes an outcast. The Program (published nearly 10 years later) echoes the themes addressed in The Bar Code Tattoo.

The Wand-Maker’s Debate is fantasy in its purest form. Talking animals, magic, castles, swords, dragons -the works.  The story follows Osric on his journey to discover who is behind an attack on Archana’s unprecedented peace treaty. Along the way he also discovers he possesses magical powers beyond those of his peers.  It is a quick, fun read.

Ranking this story in my top ten is all about the ending.  Fans of the series either loved or hated how it ended.  I thought it was brilliant. It gave the story realism that it had oftentimes abandoned.

Yes, I threw in a non-fiction story.  It’s not even a YA story but its content is important to every generation and the author does a great job telling this story.  With the release of the film, Selma, this book is perfect for anyone looking to learn more about Dr. King and the challenges he faced.  The unique perspective gives insight into the struggle Dr. King had holding his own movement together as well as his personal struggles.  Readers will learn more about Martin Luther King Jr. the man rather than the icon.  Well worth reading.

No, this is not about the Miley Cirus song.  It is another Non-Fiction (ahhhh) autobiography by one of the top professional cyclists in the world.  Yes, I am a cycling fanatic so I take the opportunity to read as much as I can about the sport and I have to say, this story was engaging from the start and kept my attention throughout -quite an accomplishment for a ‘sports book’. The Thing is, The Climb isn’t really a sports book.  It’s a story about an athlete -a good one.  Cycling fan or not, any reader would enjoy going along for the ride with Chris Froome.

The Hunger Games + Divergent + The Maze Runner = The Testing. It isn’t that simple but thematically speaking, it’s awfully darn close. I won’t digress into why it has pieces and parts of each interwoven throughout (I may gripe about that in a later blog). Still, it managed number 5 on my list because despite the commonality to the big 3 YA series right now, it is well written and aside from some much needed characterization in parts, is worth reading. Book 1 will hook you but will you stay through the completion?

I actually read Last Survivors #2 in 2014 as well but didn’t put it on the list (I’ll explain later). Life As We Knew It is a cool apocalyptic story about MAIN CHARACTER and her family as they struggle to survive.  Unlike many dystopian YA novels, Life As We Knew It addresses day-to-day hardships, sacrifices and suffering while not romanticizing the apocalypse as so many others do. It is a story of humanity. Great characters fighting to stay alive while keeping their family together. Well worth a read. Book 2 in the series depicts the same world-ending events from a completely different perspective.  Different characters, different setting.  

Having enjoyed the first in the series so much, I went right into book 2 without reading even a synopsis and, after about two chapters (where I was hoping Pfeffer would return to the characters in book 1) I realized what book 2 was all about.  It was like watching an entire season of The Walking Dead then following that season, introducing a completely new cast of characters…for an entire season. What TWD does so well (among many things) is introduce new characters to the main group and, if necessary, throw in some backstory via flashback. An entire book of new characters is tough to digest when you are so invested in the originals. The Book 2 characters weren’t as strong, the story seemed to drag and yet, the dim light at the end of the tunnel that was the hope of bringing the storylines together kept me going. I haven’t started book 3 but I believe the original characters are back.

I made a brilliant discovery in 2014 and his name is Hugh Howey. In  2011 Hugh Howey self-published a short story on the web. Word of mouth led to rapidly rising sales and inspired him to continue the story. Even before one print copy was made, Wool sold more than 400,000 digital copies and was optioned by Hollywood. 

In 2010, Hugh Howey wrote Half Way Home, a story chronicling the story of a colonization space ship heading to a potentially viable world where it would re-populate the human race.  The ship is designed to take fertilized eggs to adulthood during the journey but something goes wrong, the ship crashes and the passengers haven’t completely developed -are all teenagers.  Think Lord of the Flies in space…only better.  Great characterization, great world building description and an overall great story. Read it…at least once.

Great story about astronaut Mark Watney, the lone survivor of a manned mission to Mars.  Told in the first person, the main character is witty and entertaining.  Following his story of survival is far from stale.  The Martian is a well written, humorous and exciting sic-fi tale that belongs in everyone’s collection.

As I said, Hugh Howey was my favorite discovery for 2014. My first taste of his writing came in his book Wool.  It was one of those books that had me saying ‘no way!’ on more than one occasion.  Every chapter left me wanting more (which is why I read books 1-3 in succession and was still craving more when I was finished) or left me reeling -usually both. Brilliant story, brilliant characters, brilliant writing.  Anything that Hugh Howey publishes, I will read without hesitation. 

Honorable mention

I was fortunate enough to find Timothy M. Brenner’s Kickstarter campaign and was quick to support it.  I love seeing authors have a go at crowdfunding.  The book sounded promising and when the project funded, I received a signed copy.  It took me under a week to get through Sky Child. It can certainly be considered dystopian but dystopian on a level that thrusts the readers back to the stone age.  The story follows Sam through a series of circumstances that thrust him (unwillingly) into a leadership role among the hunters of The Crag (the system of caves where he and his people -the only people for all they know). It is a very human story dealing with survival, politics (among the cave dwellers), love, loss and self-discovery.  Sam has adopted two ‘brothers’ and raises them as if they were his own children -a unique spin on the typically independent dystopian protagonist.  It is an easy, quick read with a satisfying conclusion. If you haven’t heard of T.M. Brenner, you will.  Sky Child is well worth a read.

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