We Are the Ants – Shaun David Hutchinson
We Are the Ants garnered critical acclaim upon its release. A story about a teenager with an extremely troubled life, the typical realistic fiction adds a touch of supernatural: ever since he was thirteen, Henry Denton has been routinely abducted by aliens. Now he has a choice to save the earth or let it perish. He has 144 days to make a decision.
This story was not only unique, it was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. Unlike some other end of the world stories, the protagonist almost immediately decides that the earth is not worth saving. From his perspective you see many of the things that are considered wrong with the world, which makes it much more rewarding when he starts to notice the good parts that make the world worth saving.
If you are looking for a happy-go-lucky story that will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, this is not the right book for you. It is bittersweet, with little bits of happiness hidden among trials and tribulations. In the end though, it makes you look at the world a little differently.
The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
There is really only one word to describe The Night Circus: ethereal. Morgenstern’s story is a piece of art that is rare to find, taking the time to build a world of characters that you feel you know and a setting that practically breathes. Unfortunately, whoever wrote the summary for book browsers is guilty of false advertising. This book is not the home of a fierce competition of magic or a smoldering romance that could be transformed into a blockbuster with a flick of a switch. That is what sets it apart.
The Night Circus is a slow burner. It features two people, Celia and Marco, who have been training in the art of illusions since children, stretching the boundaries of reality in preparation for a competition that they know little about. The venue? A circus of black and white tents that appears at night without warning and disappears without a trace. The majority of the story introduces you to the characters and takes you through the circus until the reader knows every inch of the vibrant world. The most impressive part of the story is how Morgenstern manages to take all the stray storylines and tie them together flawlessly in the final few chapters.
For those looking for an action packed tale, this is not it. Its greatest draw is the beauty of the writing and the care taken to make every detail come to life on the page, and it’s a must read for those who appreciate a well written story.
Mosquitoland – David Arnold
David Arnold is, dare I say it, John Green but better. He writes with wit and humor and his stories have substance that leave the reader feeling for the characters.
Mosquitoland follows Mim, a teenage girl whose family has been thrown into disarray. Her father remarried and took her to Ohio, but when she learns that her mother is sick back in Cleveland she steals a wad of cash, gets on a Greyhound, and heads back home. On the way she encounters a cast of characters that are far more unique than the textbook “cast of unique characters” and learns that her steadfast perception of the people in her life may not be completely true.
As someone who prefers fantasy to realistic fiction, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed Arnold’s literary debut. So many books nowadays have emotionally compromised main characters, and in an effort to make them relatable they’ve created a stereotype. Mim is a refreshing voice, and the whole book is a breath of fresh air.
Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
Most people familiar with the fantasy side of the genre spectrum have heard of Neil Gaiman. I only recently picked up the book that put him on the map, and like many who have done the same, I was completely sucked in.
Neverwhere follows a very ordinary man, Richard Mayhew, who lives in London with a very ordinary life. One night he comes across a young girl bleeding on the street and offers his help, unknowingly tangling himself in her quest for revenge against the people that killed her family, all in a world just beyond reality known as London Below.
Like all great urban fantasies, the world that Gaiman creates is the book’s strongest feature. London Below is a collection of misfit characters and locations that seem like the real world but have cleverly fantastical twists. All of it exists right alongside London Above, but regular people are unable to see it.
Neverwhere is a masterpiece of fantasy, wit, and humor that takes readers on an offbeat adventure filled with odd characters and an even odder world.
Kids of Appetite – David Arnold
It begins with the death of Vic’s father. It ends with the murder of Mad’s uncle. So begins to premise of Kids of Appetite, David Arnold’s second book that broke through my fantasy prejudice and pushed its way to one of my top ten books of all time. The narrative shifts between two timelines; police interviews with the two main characters and the events leading up to a murder. Those events begin when Vic, whose dead father had left a cryptic list of where he wanted his ashes spread, leaves home abruptly with the intent of following his father’s wishes. He runs into a wayward group of homeless kids who invite him to stay with them for a few days and offer to help him complete the list.
The odd premise gives way to a story about friendship, love, loss, and the families we choose that is both touching and humorous. The journey between Vic’s father passing away and Mad’s uncle being murdered is a must read.
Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo
Six of Crows is set in another world. Some people have powers, there are different cities and cultures, and yet it is not your typical otherworld fantasy with kings and queens and elves and dwarves. The first book in a series of two, it is a gritty story with a small cast.
Kaz Brekker is the ruthless leader of a equally ruthless underworld in the city of Ketterdam. When he is offered a job that will make him rich beyond his wildest dreams but also offer him a chance for revenge, he assembles a ragtag team to help him pull off the impossible heist. Inej, the spy; Jasper, the sharpshooter; Nina, the heartrender; Wylan, the runaway; and Matthias, the convict.
Bardugo’s writing is intense. The characters are all realistic in their flaws, making them relatable despite being skilled criminals in a magical world. She keeps the romance on the low and focuses on the cutthroat fight scenes and detailed plans to rob a heavily guarded fortress, which often fall apart and cause the readers no small amount of stress. Six of Crows is a wild ride that is impossible to put down and will leave you hungry for the second book.