The best books that don't use cookie-cutter stereotypes about characters or places

The Books I Picked & Why

The Guns of Navarone

By Alistair MacLean

The Guns of Navarone

Why this book?

In this book, Maclean created one of the most unique and incredible settings I’ve seen, along with an interesting group of characters. It’s a World War II thriller set on a fictional island in the Aegean Sea, Navarone—a combination of some of the Greek islands, where the German army has set up a pair of major cannons to control the nearby waters. The neighboring island houses a prisoner-of-war camp with at least two hundred Allied prisoners. 

To free the prisoners, the Allies assemble a team to neutralize the guns at Navarone. The team includes a New Zealand mountaineer, an American bomb and radio expert, an expert Greek combatant, and two British soldiers, each with distinct personalities, along with two locals who help them. 

The setting of Navarone has as much variety as the team, spanning cliffs, mountains, the harbor, and a series of caves. The mix of the two makes the story really unique, especially with the high stakes of the operation and the obstacles that the team encounters. 

The plot is also super gripping, especially as the Germans start to catch up to the team and they have to stay hidden in dire weather conditions. Maclean is also masterful with how he captures the different characters—nothing about them is cookie cutter, and each one has a distinct personality. The trust and camaraderie that builds within the team draws the reader in and makes the book hard to put down. Nothing about this book feels cliché or stereotypical and it’s a fantastic read. 


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The Blood of Olympus (The Heroes of Olympus, Book Five)

By Rick Riordan

The Blood of Olympus (The Heroes of Olympus, Book Five)

Why this book?

The best way to describe this book and the entire Heroes of Olympus series is fun. The world in which it takes place is fascinating, with the Greek and Roman gods. I love the characters, and this book in particular because we get to see the perspectives of two extra characters on top of the original seven ‘chosen’ heroes. Riordan builds each character into a full person, and while I don’t usually read much YA, I absolutely love this series. The female characters are particularly amazing – totally different from each other, and a real combination of strong and vulnerable. The dialogue and plot are funny and it doesn’t take itself too seriously, despite the high stakes.

On top of that, I love what Riordan does with the setting. The book travels from Greece to New York and I recognize many of the different places where it takes place from my travels. The characters notice both the obvious most touristy thing about each of those places, but more importantly, the details that give you a deeper perspective, such as the smell of the ocean and fresh-baked bread in Old San Juan and the taste of farturas in Portugal. 


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The Widows of Malabar Hill

By Sujata Massey

The Widows of Malabar Hill

Why this book?

This book takes place from 1916-1921 in Bombay and Calcutta, following the protagonist in an alternating timeline. The story that is set in the past is my favorite part of the book, when you get to see how the protagonist, a young Parsi woman, became who she is. I loved watching her first fall in love, then grapple with gender roles and expectations until the past timeline eventually catches up with the present-day mystery. The setting itself is fascinating and unusual, and the protagonist’s journey is particularly compelling.


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Sirocco

By D.L. Wilson

Sirocco

Why this book?

This book combines a terrorism thriller with a mystery, as Brett, the protagonist, learns of his brother’s death. As he learns more about the murder/suicide, it connects to Sirocco, a terrorist organization planning a bio-terror plot in the US. The pacing and interweaving of the terrorist plot with Brett’s investigation are really well done, keeping you interested in both parts of the plot and guessing up till the end. I especially loved the twist the author put in—I’m usually pretty good at seeing those, but in this case, it really caught me by surprise.


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Jet

By Russell Blake

Jet

Why this book?

Jet follows a former Mossad operative who faked her death to escape the spy life. The main character travels all over the world and the different places she visits read real and authentic. As a reader, I believed how much she wanted to be free of that life and how events early on in the book make it impossible for her to stay hidden. The author chooses unusual destinations like Trinidad, Venezuela, Algeria, and Belize, and I loved how the plot wove together between the different characters and places. The whole book feels like a roller coaster ride!


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