Good thread, everyone! Comments on this discussion are closed as of 9/14.
Sorting through and packing up my books for moving, and asked for book recommendations by a friend, I realized that there is a short list of titles & authors that I repeatedly find myself shoving into people’s hands (usually after being lucky enough to have them shoved into my hands). And I thought, who do I know who likes reading? And who do I know who recommends great stuff to me?
So let’s have a thread. Having been around the Fannish Moderation block a time or two, allow me to set some ground rules:
- List no more than 5 creators.
- If you like, give a brief, spoiler-free description of the work. Edited to Add: If you want to warn for violence or other potentially trigger-y stuff, word on the Tweet is that posters would greatly appreciate it.
- SRSLY NO SPOILERS
- The spam queue will get extra hungry for linky posts, so I recommend that you link only to works that exist solely online. We can GooBingle something that interests us.
- If you didn’t enjoy something that someone recommends, please do not use your words.
To elaborate on that last point, this is an enthusiasm thread, not a critique thread. People are saying “Here is stuff I love and recommend to people all the time.” They are not saying “and you should feel the same way I do about it” or even read it.
- Correct: “If you enjoy that, you’ll probably enjoy x thing, too – I thought it did y aspect really well.”
- Incorrect: “I did not enjoy x thing because….” “Y thing is way better…” “I wanted to like x but I was disappointed because….” “All the hype over x really put me off….”
…and if you find yourself typing the word “overrated” at any point, just delete your comment, ok? Come back when you like something. We are to an extent ignoring potentially problematic elements of the works in this discussion, but that’s because the basis of the discussion is subjective enjoyment, i.e., What stuff do you like?
EDITED TO ADD: Ok, based on some heated feedback on Twitter that I admit I am not handling all that well, let’s change this up slightly.
–If you want to give content notes about elements in something you are recommending, for example, if you enjoyed Swamplandia! but want people to know that it gets rapey before they pick it up (soooooooooo rapey), it would be appreciated by many readers. I feel like a lot of people are doing this anyway and do this here in general.
–If you are reading the thread, please know before you go in:
a) This was not the rule or request from the beginning, and my post +
177 192 comments and counting are already through the net.
b) So if something caught your eye and you want to read it but you have known triggers or stuff you are trying to avoid, ask the person who recommended it directly and/or do a little due diligence on Goodreads, etc. before picking it up. Script: “That sounds neat. I’m trying to avoid stuff with x and y. Am I likely to encounter it?” I really, really don’t want to trick you into reading stuff that will harm you.
Even if we’d done this right from the start, people might warn for all kinds of stuff and still miss the thing that would bother or trigger you. So ask or do as @staranise recommends: GooBingle “title” + “sexist”, & etc. or “title” + “problematic” as a failsafe, because even the most conscientious of rec’rs won’t catch everything.
c) CAVEAT EMPTOR. These are not necessarily “safe” books on any level. Many of mine have murder & really chilling portrayals of sociopaths in them. (& bonus historical inaccuracies!) Before you go in the thread, before you read anything that anyone here has recommended, know that these books are not being screened for anything but “some stranger on the internet really liked it.”
Against all odds, I am still trying to avoid conversations like this:
Poster A: “I cannot wait for Dr. Who to start back up!”
Poster B: “I loved it until (yep, totally problematic) thing…” or “Here are all the (legitimate!) ways that Stephen Moffat is doing it wrong…..”
…as the call-and-response here.
:quietly checks BBC schedule for any announcements re: Sherlock Season 3:
I think critical engagement with media is vitally important, and it’s not the general policy of the blog (in other threads, discuss problematic shit away, we do it all the time) to gloss it over. Also, I believe that the forums, when they are fully operational, will have areas specifically devoted this kind of analysis.
But for purposes of this particular thread on this particular day, I want to know what people enthusiastically love, even if it has problematic elements, even if it is not literary or cool or critically acclaimed. lf you are like “I really love Flowers In the Attic” I will say “Cool, did you see this interview with the editor who acquired it? Because it is fascinating, and knowing that she was physically immobile makes the claustrophobia and isolation of the characters much more interesting. Also, how weird is it that all of our moms were reading it at the same time?”
There are legitimate reasons to avoid certain works beyond subjectively not liking them, and it is a privileged position to equate the two and gloss over “isms.” After taking a Twitter break (thanks to people looking out for me who said ‘stop being an ass’!) I see why people were upset and how I was equating the two things incorrectly. However, today, in this thread, I am okay with a potentially “bad” book getting through the net. It is okay if you don’t like something and just quietly go on not liking it. It is okay if you quietly lower your opinion of someone based on their taste without engaging.
So what do you love? That’s where I wanted to hang out today. Can we still do it?
Without further ado (Edited to Add: Ha!) , the things I always end up recommending to people:
1. Tana French, IN THE WOODS & THE LIKENESS.
Detective novels that are really about friendship/family and critiques of late-stage capitalism.
2. Scott Lynch, THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA.
Thieves, lies, deceipt,murder, true friendship, capers, comebacks, love, death, heroism. The sequel has badass lady pirates. And yes, October 8 is marked on my calendar, why do you ask?
3. Robert Goolrick, A RELIABLE WIFE
Wealthy, lonely man orders bride through the mail. What happens next is…Pulpy. Overwrought. Melodrama. I could not put it down.
The next two are series anchors:
4. FIRE WATCH (short story, free to read online) by Connie Willis, and the novels take place in that world, especially DOMESDAY BOOK and BLACKOUT/ALL CLEAR. Someone here put me on her trail, so, congratulations – you made a convert.
5. CORDELIA’S HONOR by Lois McMaster Bujold. If you like it, happy reading for the next 6 months or so as you follow her son, Miles, to the ends of the universe.
So what are the books you always recommend/give to people?
591 thoughts on “The Books You Always Find Yourself Recommending Open Thread (updated)”
As silly as it sounds, To Kill A Mockingbird always tops my list. Mostly because the teachable moments occur deep within the story, and the story itself is just so good.
A Live Coal In The Sea, by Madeleine L’Engle. Just read it.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. The movie is good, yes, but the book, there’s so much more.
Any of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, but I tend to prefer either stories with Nanny Ogg, Granny Weatherwax, Magrat, and/or Agnes, or stories with the Night Watch and Sam Vimes. It’s more than just puns.
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. Yes, I know it’s trite. But I end up reading it every year because I get sucked into the story.
THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND is my Thornbirds. 🙂
Ooo, I love the Pratchetts with the witches. And The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
LOVE Witch of Blackbird Pond. Yes.
Seconding the Discworld recommendation, although my favorites are Monstrous Regiment, the books with Tiffany Aching, and the books with Moist von Lipwig.
I also recommend Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman to just about everyone ever.
Good Omens is the greatest!
I just read my first Moist Von Lipwig book and have decided he’s pretty much the best character ever!
Yes, Tiffany Aching! Her books are the best – you wouldn’t think a goofy fantasy universe could handle deep moral quandaries with such aplomb, but, well, Pratchett.
Seconding Pratchett, so hard! It really is more than puns – I’ve learned a lot about this world from the Discworld books.
Oh yes. Pratchett seconded. His social commentary is so very sharp, and his books actually tackle serious issues in modern society. And above all that, they’re a damned good laugh.
Another vote for Terry Pratchett, especially the Science of the Discworld series. They alternate chapters between the fiction story and a non-fiction chapter of related science, so you get the best of both worlds. And now I’ve just found out that the fourth one came out this year, so I need to run to a library, asap!
DISCWORLD FISTBUMP. My personal favourites are the Vimes and Vetinari stories, with extra love and squishy feelings about /Nightwatch/. It has (to me) a different tone than some of his other books — darker and more tense at times. Could not put it down, one that I always come back to reread.
956th vote for Terry Pratchett, and oh my goodness yes to Vimes and Vetinari stories, and also Good Omens and also Moist Von Lipwick oh my goodness yes!
I’m reading all of the Discworld novels in order (because I’m awesome…) and haven’t got to Moist Von Lipwick, where does he pop up? I love Sam Vimes and Tiffany Aching, such awesome characters. My mum bought me ‘Wee Free Men’ when I was quite young and I just FELL IN LOVE with Tiffany.
But my all time favourite character is Death.. Especially voiced by Sir Christopher Lee in the Colour of Magic TV special! I nearly died from sheer joy when I heard who it was.
OH MY GOD A LIVE COAL IN THE SEA. Thank you for being alive and having read that book.
I’ve read the large majority of L’Engle’s fiction, both adult and YA, and I own most of my favorites but I haven’t been able to find this one in forever. (I could order it on Amazon but I just only think of it when I’m in a bookstore…)
Such a beautiful story.
I am JUST READING Locka Lamora and I love it.
1) MOMO by Michael Ende. This is my favorite favorite book of all time, and it is reminiscent of THE LITTLE PRINCE, if THE LITTLE PRINCE were more plot-driven. It’s a kids’ book, and will take a couple hours to read at most. It’s magical and heartbreaking.
2) The INHERITANCE trilogy by NK Jemisin. I say the trilogy because you must positively start with THE ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS, which is the first book, but THE BROKEN KINGDOMS is my favorite in the trilogy. Amazing characters, amazing world-building.
3) BEAUTY QUEENS by Libba Bray. Funny, feminist, poignant and biting.
4) WOMEN WITHOUT MEN by Shahrnush Parsipur. Awesome magical realism about choices and circumstances and female power.
5) THE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT, by Kate DiCamillo. More magic, another kids’ book, about intent and responsibility and hope.
❤ for the Jemisin rec. Have you read any of her short fiction? I really loved 'The Effluent Engine'.
Ooh, yes, Jemisin! A fantastic writer. The Broken Kingdoms is my favourite as well. 😀
The Inheritance Trilogy is amazeballs.
Loved these and I was so pleased to she Killing Moon up for the world fantasy awards 🙂
Just commenting to say that Momo was a lost book for me. I read it as a little girl and forgot the title and author, but every so often it popped into my head and I would try to figure out what it was. The name sparked it and then I Googled it. Thank you so much for finding it for me!
(Ironically I love The Phantom Tollbooth, but I never realized the author had written other books.)
OMG MOMO! I am always sad that the only Ende book English-speaking folk have often heard of is the Neverending Story – not that that is not a lovely book, but because it means they’re missing out on Momo which was among my favourite books ever when I was a kid.
I haven’t read “Beauty Queens” by Libba Bray, but I loved her “Going Bovine.” I also love that in her interview with Locus, Ms. Bray talks about her favorite piece of angry readermail, which accused her of being an eco-friendly fembot that survived on the tears of teenage girls, who would live forever on the tears her novels had generated.
OMG BEAUTY QUEENS!!! I read it recently and it just blew my mind it was so awesome! I’m so excited to find someone else who loved it! Libba Bray has a fantastic sense of humor! I loved Going Bovine, too – similar quirky style, surreal and funny, but also dealing with hard issues.
1. All the Jane Austen works, including the lesser ones (which feature lines like, “We fainted alternately on a sofa.”)
2. The Gift of Fear, not a fun read, but a really, really helpful one.
3. The Georgia Nicholson books by Louise Rennison — I find these hilarious, so I tend to recommend them. However, the protagonist goes to an all-girls’ high school and so did I, which definitely is a part of why some of the humor is extra-funny to me. If you didn’t go to privileged white-girl school they might be funny or they might just be tiresome.
4. The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, by which I mean a translation of the Japanese court lady who wrote her famous notes a thousand years ago, not one of the various modern novels with a similar-sounding title. There is a lot of beauty and humor and intellectual badassery by a woman who found ways to compete with the men even though it was forbidden on various levels.
5. Maya Angelou. At which point I lose all words because I just want to jump up and down and say, “THIS!”
The Gift of Fear is, I think, an important read for everyone. I am going to have to give my daughter a copy.
Agreed. Also his book, Protecting the Gift, which deals specifically with ways to protect children. It makes you think about the messages we send to kids when we do things like scold them to hug/kiss people goodbye. A good companion to Gift of Fear.
I really wish gift of fear and why doe he do that we’re required reading fresh man high school.
seconding. Also, the pillow book!! I’ve never met anyone else who has read it. Highfive!
Yeah, my nieces are getting to be the age where The Gift of Fear is going to be in their stockings. Excellent rec.
As another former girls’ school attendee I find the Georgia Nicholson books hysterically funny. Excellent for when you’re stuck in bed, not so good for reading on public transport in case (like me) you start laughing like a loon at inappropriate moments.
Me and my mum had such a strong bond over these books. To this day we still refer to cold days as being nippy noodles.
Oh, I adore the Georgia Nicholson books. I read them when I was 12 or 13, and it was as though she was describing my life, only a much, much funnier version of it!
The way she mixes metaphors with utter abandon tends to make me laugh until I cry. Just ran into this one: “Nothing like shutting the stable door and tarting up the horse after it’s bolted.”
I work in a kid’s bookshop and I rec these ALL THE TIME to teens and their parents. They also manage to do sex ed in a fun, relevant and generally awesome way. They really did feel like she was narrating my life and worries, but in a funny, actually interesting way!
I’m trying to think of trigger warnings for my list, but very often we don’t notice some of the issues in the books we love most.
Jane Austen: There is some stalking in Pride and Prejudice, but she centers the victim and makes fun of the perpetrator. Persuasion has some mild gaslighting. Love and Freindship (sic) is a slapstick parody of gothic novels, which tended to have various sort of violence, so there some of that. Sense and Sensibility needs a trigger warning for rape of a minor, though the main characters and the reader learn about it after the fact.
Mansfield Park features a protagonist with extreme social anxiety who gets stalked by a rather nasty predator. The book is grim in a number of respects, because it was Austen’s attempt to take on the issue of slavery, despite never having met a slave and therefore being limited in what she could legitimately write about. She portrayed the extended family associated with Mansfield Park as suffering from ever-creeping moral corruption because their comfortable English lives were built on wealth from slave plantations in the West Indies.
The Gift of Fear is a stressful read, since it talks about stalking and related violence.
The Georgia Nicholson books: I had one friend start one and say it was too traumatizing because it reminded her of a school where she was bullied, which is why in my original list I tried to warn that they’re not perfect. There is a certain amount of bullying, some of it rather cruel. Pretty much all the girls in the books do something that qualifies as bullying at some point, which I thought was fairly realistic, as was the way most of them tended to face consequences and figure out to behave better.
1. Douglas Hofstadter. Everything he writes is extremely wordy, so if you want something short, snappy and to the point, he’s probably not the author for you. Nonetheless, his books all tend to be BRAINSPLOSIONS which will get your mind bouncing off happily in several different directions all at once. He always writes about cognitive science, but approaches it from different angles. If you’re more mathematically/logically orientated, go for “Goedel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” (sorry, can’t do an umlaut on here yet), which is still a classic. If you’re more the literary type, read “Le Ton Beau de Marot” (which is in English, despite the title) and prepare to have your mind blown by some amazing translation fireworks.
2. Steven Pinker. Can you imagine getting excited – I mean, seriously excited – about irregular verbs in English? This author can, and he will get you excited too. While he primarily writes about linguistics, he also has a great deal to say about how language and human thought interact. Anything he writes is well worth a read.
3. Ian Stewart. Does for mathematics what Steven Pinker does for linguistics. Also tends to throw in bonus puns.
4. Dorothy L Sayers. Some of you may have read her Lord Peter Wimsey novels, but you may not know she was also a stunningly good translator. If you haven’t seen her translation of Dante’s “Commedia Divina”, prepare to be amazed. (It’s in verse. She gets the rhyme right. She gets the metre right. She doesn’t distort the language out of all recognition in the process. Respect is due.)
5. Charles Stross. I am only just discovering his SF, and so far it’s kind of like standing in front of a garden hose which is on full blast, but instead of water, what is coming out of that hose is IDEAS. Why have I not been reading him for years?
Steven Pinker is so much fun! And I love Stross’s series about the world-walking people.
I got Goedel, Escher, Bach as a birthday present years ago, aND I LOVE IT SO MUCH. If/when he gives examples or puzzles, I love figuring them out. So many eureka moments!
Another reason Stross is great is that he has a lot of very good female/gay/other non-white-straight-male type characters in his books. They’re very much written as a person first, rather than their sexuality or gender being their most important characteristic.
He’s also aware of and involved with the lack of diversity problems in SFF, which is really great. I always find books more enjoyable when I know the author is on the side of making the SFF world a better place.
Oh GOODNESS Charles Stross! I’ve been binging on him lately. My favorite is the Laundry Files series, where he riffs on the styles of different spy thrillers by setting them in a universe where Lovecraft Was Right, and the protagonist is in the spy agency that deals with those unknowable horrors. The first book we have some damsel in distressing, but after that the women tend to be 10X as badass as the protagonist.
O HAI I am a lurker/reader here but a book thread is a surefire way to pull me out of the shadows 🙂
1. Anything by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – her latest, Americanah, is another beautiful offering. I’ve loved everything she’s written.
2. Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry – I specifically recommend this book to people who are not WOC because it is a much-needed personal and real look into what it is like in this society to be one.
3. The Hummingbird’s Daughter and Queen of America by Luis Alberto Urrea – you know when people say “I couldn’t put this book down”? YEAH THAT. (The second is a sequel to the first so best to read THD and then Queen.)
4. Taylor Branch’s civil rights/MLK trilogy – yes it is very very long, but it is very very worth it. Even if you think you know the movement and MLK well, you really don’t. These books gave new meaning to the word “thorough”.
5. The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie – yes, *that* Hugh Laurie, aka Dr House! This isn’t like the best book you’ll ever read or anything but it’s super fun and funny, and for a book written by a celebrity, it’s very rewarding and worth the time. I wish he’d write more.
“2. Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry – I specifically recommend this book to people who are not WOC because it is a much-needed personal and real look into what it is like in this society to be one.”
Thank you — I added this to my list.
I second the thanks. Downloaded to my Kindle.
I second the Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recommendation. She’s an amazing writer!
I’ve been thinking of reading Sister Citizen, but I was wondering if you think it will work as well for a reader who isn’t from/doesn’t live in the USA.
Honestly, I can’t really say, because it depends on what you’re looking to get out of it. I think it would definitely give a non-USian a better understanding of prejudice and oppression within US society and politics, and maybe a better understanding therefore of social justice movements here? So if that’s something that interests you, then yes, it would “work”. But other than that, I’m not clear about what the problem might be, unless you’re just not sure you’d understand the background…?
I guess like, do the lessons and insights in the book have a broad application, or are they really culturally specific? I don’t know. I’m having trouble articulating my question. Never mind. I’m sure I will find it interesting and edifying regardless, and I like MHP a lot.
I always, always, always recommend TheWatch That Ends The Night by Hugh Maclennan. It’s a beautiful love story and great historical fiction.
-The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, quite possibly my very favorite novel. AMAZING three-dimensional characters, sucked me in, and also showed some of the less-discussed parts of life as a child in Nazi Germany. I rarely reread books and that one’s slated for a second re-reading soon once I recover my copy from a friend.
-A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon (who also wrote The Mysterious Incident of the Dog in the Night). He gets the neurotic panic of the main character *just right*. The family is dysfunctional is such a realistic way, and the characters are the sort of fucked-up and likeable that real people are. Another one I’ve reread and probably will again.
Oh, The Book Thief. So wonderful and sad. And the language! Love.
The Book Thief! ❤ I was just raving about it to someone at work today, actually! (Actually, about 4 of us were raving about it to one poor person who was complaining that she'd run out of books to read and it was 2 weeks before our next delivery — I think she regretted saying anything by the time she left…)
The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington (a surrealist painter, look her up)
From goodreads: “It tells the story of 92-year-old Marian Leatherby, who is given the gift of a hearing trumpet only to discover that her family has been plotting to have her committed to an institution. But this is an institution where the buildings are shaped like birthday cakes and igloos, where the Winking Abbess and the Queen Bee reign, and where the gateway to the underworld is wide open. It is also the scene of a mysterious murder.”
The Poisonwood Bible
would recommend for anyone who is interested by the way siblings can come away as totally different people after growing up in the same house.
The Chronology of Water
Pretty much any of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels are a good read, but I second The Poisonwood Bible! Also try The Bean Trees.
The Poisonwood Bible is fucking.amazing.
The first time I read the Poisonwood Bible, I was working a retail job in a mall that was DEAD the week after Christmas. I read about half of it during a shift and when I got home even though it was late I couldn’t bear to put it down. I finished around 2am and only then realized that my mom had washed my sheets and they were balled up on my bed. I was too emotionally exhausted to even make my bed and slept in a sheet-nest that night.
My point being: it’s a fantastic and really engaging book. =)
The Poisonwood Bible is AMAZING!
Oh can I second, third, fourth Tana French’s books. Especially The Likeness.
Horns, Joe Hill (for if you like Stephen King, horror, just plain amazing characters and pure humanity in your books).
Rose Madder, Stephen King (strongest woman in fiction, possibly).
The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn, Aidan Chambers (really really great at taking you back to your first love).
The Chaos Walking Trilogy, Patrick Ness (so so good if you like epic children’s books, complex characters and war/terrorism situations set on a different planet where all men can hear each other’s thoughts, while women’s go unheard).
I also always heartily recommend Sandman but that’s comics/graphic novels.
I’m recommending the Chaos Walking trilogy about a billion times, oh my god. Possibly my favorite book series of all time. There are two or three parts that never fail to make me cry, even though I’ve read them over and over, and the relationship between the male & female lead is what I’ve always wanted from a YA novel. They’re both complex, real characters and equals; she was never his “prize” for overcoming all obstacles, or anything like that. (Also, I’ve always read Todd as asexual, and there are at least three canonically queer characters that play important roles, if that means anything to anyone!)
(slight correction: it’s not so much that men can hear each other’s thoughts, it’s more like men’s thoughts are broadcast to everyone, all the time, completely unfiltered. the first book in particular portrays several different ways that people deal with this, and it’s pretty interesting)
I have fallen into a Stephen King kick out of nowhere, so the Rose Madder rec is going on my list. Thank you!
Rose Madder is my favourite Stephen King book, bar none. I love the imagery and the use of colour in it.
I was about to start rereading the Graceling trilogy today, I reread it probably twice a year. It’s lovely YA Fantasy w/ a teen girl who makes her own agency. 2nd book took me longer to get into but is now my fave. 3rd book is also really wonderful. Content warnings: child abuse, child sexual abuse (not explicit but hinted), and some disability stuff that is a tad hamfisted here and there.
Bitterblue is possibly my favorite book of all time. That might be because I have father issues, but seriously, so good.
Man, I love the Graceling trilogy! I actually really like Fire, because it takes the “woman who is *too* beautiful” trait (which I usually see crop up on Mary Sue checklists) and does amazing things with it. Also, I really enjoyed the whole “how culpable are we for the crimes of our parents?” theme. And Katsa Katsa KATSA I love you so much. I also need to reread Bitterblue, I’ve only read it once.
I’d also add sexual harrassment stuff content notes for Fire myself, and there’s some stuff about abortion and reproductive choice that could be triggery for some people?
Good call, Kaz.
When I first became a baseball fan, I read David Carkeet’s “The Greatest Slump of All Time,” a comic novel about an entire baseball team with different forms of depression. It’s compassionate and funny and the characters are very human. It made me a nicer baseball fan, which I’m glad of (especially since one of the friends who intro’d me to baseball was an epic trash-talker). I read this 30 years ago, and I only recently quoted a line from it in the context of speaking of a certain political party’s feelings about the President: “They boo the way he swallows his saliva.”
As another baseball fan, I heartily second that recommendation. Such a lovely, human work. For any other baseball fans out there, Summerland by Michael Chabon is a must read.
Michael Chabon is one of my favourite authors. Summerland is great — it’s notionally YA and I don’t think any of his other books are.
OOOOH. As a literature nerd, I’ve always, always, got recommendations up my sleeve. The ones I most commonly recommend are as follows:
1. THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY by Michael Chabon. I read this for a contemporary American lit class in graduate school and fell in love. It’s 600 pages, so it’s hefty, but it’s a fascinating exploration of both nerdy comic-book culture, Jewish history/WWII, and homophobia. Some will find the portrayal/use of women through the story fairly problematic, but don’t let that keep you from reading it.
2. EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE by JS Foer. Before it was made into a terrible, sappy movie starring Tom Hanks, it existed as one of the best books I’ve ever read. Foer plays with form in such a way that you really should only read this as a physical book (there’s a thing midway through the book that doesn’t translate to ebook). It’s a post-9/11 trauma narrative, but in a different form than most.
3. FALLING MAN by Don DeLillo. Piggy-backing off of number 2, DeLillo’s 9/11 trauma narrative explores the concentric circles of the impact of tragedy in terms of both emotional closeness and physical closeness. Some may find the narrative cold and unrelenting, but I found the book to be a fascinating examination of how we view tragedy on a global scale, from behind our TV/Internet screens.
4. BLANKETS by Craig Thompson. This is a graphic novel that isn’t for everyone, but if you grew up in an evangelical or fundamentalist religious culture, you will identify with so much of Thompson’s story. I read the entire thing in one afternoon because I could not bring myself to put it down. It’s a tale of faith, first love, and doubt.
5. THE NAME OF THE STAR/THE SHADES OF LONDON series by Maureen Johnson. I adore this series and cannot wait for the third one to come out in 2014. It’s YA lit murder mystery/ghost story inspired by Jack The Ripper. I’ve read the first two books (THE NAME OF THE STAR and THE MADNESS UNDERNEATH) about three times now, and I still get shocked and surprised by them.
I had to take a couple days to process my feelings re: Kavalier and Clay. Shit had me feeling several kinds of emotional.
Okay, I have read (and really liked) your first four, so I am just going to go ahead and add the last one to my reading list since we clearly have reading overlap.
Omg Blankets!!! I’m so happy to see someone rec that book — the art is so beautiful, and the story felt so real to me. I adore it times a thousand.
HEARTILY SECONDING YOUR RECCOMENDATION FOR JS FOER & CRAIG THOMPSON. Their other books are both equally mindblowing.
These 5 are books that have made it into my permanent collection. Not an easy task, as books I merely “like” get passed onto my mum, as we have similar tastes. A book has to be extra special to stay on my shelves.
1: It sounds trite, but “Eat, Pray, Love” is a book I go back to time and time again. It’s self-indulgent and a bit trashy, but there’s something there. This was the first book I read where I had to go get a pen to write passages out myself.
2: “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant. The story of Dinah, sister of Joseph (of Technicolor dreamcoat fame). Beautifully written and one I can read over and over again.
3: “Brothers” by Bernice Rubens. Follows 3 generations of the same Jewish family over the course of a century. Incredibly moving. I cried like a baby over the section that deals with the 2nd world war, written in diary form.
4: The Earth Children series by Jean M Auel. I think there is 5 or 6 in the series. Incredibly absorbing. You really grow to love and care about the characters. I was so, so sad to finish the final book and to realise I’d never get to learn what happened to Ayla and Jondalar in their later years.
5: I very recently read, and loved, “The Orphan Master’s Son” by Adam Johnson. The first quarter is nothing special but it then got so, so good. And the weird thing is, I really can’t say what I loved about it. Other than I loved it. One of those books you finish and go “wow.”
Just on the subject of Jean M Auel, and I really hope I’m not breaking any rules here but I’m going to put a trigger warning for rape in the first book (Clan of the Cavebear), it’s pretty graphic. Just in case anyone reads it, oh, and they’re pretty explicit in terms of sex. They got recommended to me as the most awesome books EVAR when I was 13 years old. I read them and the first four are my favourites.
Any of NK Jemison’s series. So good. She writes fantasy, but it’s not European medieval based. It’s really different and cool. Plus, there are lots of POC main characters, which is really nice.
Imagica by Clive Barker. It’s a beautiful dark fantasy series. It’s so unique and so beautiful and has a really amazing love story. It starts a little slow, but it gets so, so much better.
Abarat (I probably spelled that wrong) by Clive Barker. It’s young adult, but absolutely amazing. Again fantasy, but very different than the normal Tolkien based ones.
Anything by James Michener. Hawaii is probably my favorite, but they are all so good. They are the histories of whatever the book is about written through some fictional characters. They are really fun reads and you can learn a lot.
Oooh, Hawaii is my favorite Michener, too. He’s really a master storyteller.
No, you spelled Abarat correctly, and it’s an amazing book. It’s also the first of a planned 5-book series: “Days of Magic, Nights of War”; “Absolute Midnight”; “The Price of Dreams” (not yet published) and the last book (also not yet published) is tentatively titled “The Eternal”. I’ve read the second book but not the third.
Also, Barker did all the illustrations himself (colorful but sometimes a bit creepy). The villain in the first two books is one of my all-time favorites. And a bit of a warning: the villain’s behavior towards the main character is more than a little stalker-ish, but while there’s a good bit of (fantasy and plot appropriate) violence in the books, the interactions between them are more a sort of attempted (not entirely sexual) seduction rather than actual assault.
I’m assuming no repeats? Otherwise, Tana French and To Kill a Mockingbird would be on my list.
1. The World According to Garp. John Irving. Delicious words. Character Driven. Often Surprising. Many Feels.
2. Skullduggery Pleasant. 12-yr-old Heroine. Flame Throwing Skeleton Detective. Sarcasm Abounds.
3. The Graveyard Book. Haunting. Lovely. Perfect As An Audiobook, As Well.
4. The Lords of Discipline. Not My Wheelhouse – Loved It Anyway.
5. Postcards from the Edge. Just Because.
I am an obsessive reader, so this list changes from time to time. I also tend to tailor my lists towards specific people. In general, though, these are ones that speak to me.
You can repeat! It’s the books YOU recommend.
Ever since you recommended Tana French, I’ve passed her books along to everyone I know. She’s just not someone you regularly bump into, and I want everyone to read her!
I heartily second The Graveyard Book. I think it’s Gaiman’s best work (with the caveat that I haven’t read his most recent one yet). Beautifully spare and creepy and just gets everything right about what it means to be a human.
The Graveyard Book! SO GOOD.
I would definitely recommending getting to The Ocean at the End of the Lane as soon as you can — it had a similar feel to The Graveyard Book imo, and I absolutely loved it. My stepdad was also a huge fan, and he’s a bit ambivalent on Gaiman generally (but did enjoy The Graveyard Book).
Big second for Skulduggery Pleasant, and I’m only halfway through the first book.
SOMETHING RISING LIGHT AND SWIFT by Haven Kimmel
Female pool shark + family issues. It is excellent.
Nevada by Imogen Binnie
Rambling transwoman throws her whole life for a loop, goes on a road trip. Sort of reminds me of early Michelle Tea. Super great.
Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
Young girl who has always been mediocre at things suddenly wins school spelling bee, gets into training with her dad who’s a rabbi, talks about Jewish mysticism, her mom struggles with mental illness, her brother is doing an interesting spiritual seeker thing.
The Book of Salt by Monique Truong
Written from the perspective of the Gertrude Stein & Alice B Toklas’ Vietnamese cook. Super duper great.
And Baby Makes More ed. by Susan Goldberg and Chloe Brushwood Rose
Anthology about queer parenting, chosen family, and those kinds of things. Wonderful.
I loved The Book of Salt!
And Baby Makes More! I’m in that book! I’m one of the authors of one of the multi-author essays!
Speaking of Lois McMaster Bujold, I always recommend Curse of Chalion and its sequel Paladin of Souls. High fantasy books with real depth of characterization and plot. And for me they fall in the sweet spot between grimdark and fluff. They have substance and depth without being relentlessly horrible.
Other recommendations would include Jo Walton – Farthing series (alternate history with Nazis, crossed with Mitfordesque country house novel) or Among Others (what happens after you save the world at huge sacrifice? crossed with bookish teenage girl coming of age story)
Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein -totally brilliant world building and plotting.
And more I’ll come back to!
Second the Steerswoman rec! They are hard to recommend without spoiling, because so many aspects of that world and the plot turn out to be completely different than they seem– but, SO MANY things turn out to be completely surprising! And not because Kirstein withholds information, but because the books are fundamentally about ways of learning and ways of categorizing information, and so it’s possible (for the reader and the characters) to put together the clues in completely logical and completely wrong ways.
Also, fantastic female characters! The friendship between Rowan and Bel makes me happy in so many ways.
I think you were the person who recommended the Steerswoman books so I read them, and I am glad you did. They are sfnal in the very best way, where the world building is very deep, but you are still reading a story instead of a travelogue. And it’s a series in the best way, where you are coming back to old familiar characters, but they are doing new things in each book.
Hot damn, other people who love the Steerswoman books!
Learned about them from another post here – loved The Steerswoman’s Road (omnibus of the first two books) – haven’t found out if the story continues in sequels yet.
It does! Four books altogether so far, more eagerly awaited.
Seconding The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls. The first book is a fantasy AU of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, and the fantasy world in question has the best fantasy religion and theology I have ever seen. I loved the protagonist, Cazaril, but I REALLY loved the gods, specifically the Bastard (who is the god of demons, queer people, children born out of wedlock, orphans, and anyone else who doesn’t fit in in some way.)
The second book is about the Isabella-equivalent’s mother (whose real world equivalent is Isabella of Portugal) and is that rare thing, high fantasy about a middle-aged woman. Lots of stuff there about how to cope with no one in your life believing you’re a sane, capable adult… including you yourself.
YES to Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls (and Hallowed Hunt). Lois Bujold has another two books in this series that I really want to see. It’s the Fivefold Path, right? It can’t stop at three!
Curse of Chalion is especially yummy in audiobook form. I like the reader who does it.
seconding Among Others. I finished that one and immediately started it over again. I LOVE that book and am now on my fourth time through it in less than 6 months.
FARTHING. Someone else has read that trilogy! I absolutely adore them. (Oddly AMONG OTHERS doesn’t speak to me in the same way even though it should because that type of story is my jam)
I was just so happy someone else enjoyed FARTHING that I had to comment because <3<3<3
I love Curse of Chalion and especially Paladin of Souls, totally seconding that. Ista especially, because she is such an amazing character and it feels like a lot of her storyline provides this awesome commentary on how the treatment of mothers, widows and women who say uncomfortable things.
Do the Steerswoman really not exist in ebook format anywhere? I can’t find them, but I’ve seen them recommended so often that I might have to break my usual patterns and find some cheap used copies.
I haven’t managed to find them in ebook, I got mine used. Sorry. Well worth it.
Fair enough. Used copies are cheap.
millionthing Among Others. that was pure pleasure from start to finish, not that it doesn’t get sad and hard at points in the book. i MISSED the protagonist when the book was over, and wished so hard i could talk to her as an adult.
The Curse of Chalion has a really great portrayal of PTSD in a fantasy/sword-and-sorcery setting. The narrator of the audiobook version does an excellent job with it, as well.
The Steerswoman! I read those books (all 4 as quickly as I could get my hands on them) recently based on a rec at Shakesville and then wondered where they had been all my life! So so so so good!
Also, I love just about everything Bujold has ever written, but I’m especially fond of Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls. I love Ista and Cazaril 4EVA!
Lately I too have been recommending Tana French, and Bujold, but for friends who love historical fiction with a lot of bite, I point them to Stone’s Fall. An amazing mystery with fascinating play on narration, but it’s also a story about love and the rise of modern capitalism.
For friends who like mysteries, I really recommend Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache novels. Gamache reminds me of a wise and human Poirot, the supporting characters are all real and make you care about them, and I learned a lot about Canada, since all the books take place there.
I also just finished a Brief History of Montmaray, which is amazing if you like kickass ladies being brilliant, stories about WWII, feminism, queerness, and stories written through diaries. It’s about a fictional royal family (their kingdom is off the coast of Spain), who find themselves caught up in the rise of fascism and then WWII itself.
OMG OMG I love Louise Penny and the Inspector Gamache/Three Pines mysteries! Yes yes yes!
What a great thread! Thank you!
1. Dearest to me is the Liaden Universe series (many books and short stories, still going) by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. A dear friend started me on these many years ago and they’ve taken up an enduring and uplifting residence in my inner life ever since. Brilliant writing, world- and culture-building, fantastic characters and character growth and development, tremendous plots, awesome love stories…. Oh! So! Good!
2. I ditto the Vorkosigan series, and also Lois McMaster Bujold’s other, smaller series, the Sharing Knife and Chalion books, in that order. Interestingly i came across these as a result of reverse-blurbage: The less-well-known Liaden books had a blurb saying “If you liked the Vorkosigan series, you’ll like Lee & Miller” and i thought “that could work in reverse too” – and it sure did.
3. Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks on relationships – particularly Conscious Loving, but many others as well. Some great guidance on self-awareness, communication and integrity, well-written, clear, and i have found them to be very helpful.
4. David Schnarch, Passionate Marriage, and others. One of the clearest writers on differentiation of self in relationship and how essential it is – in a sex therapy context, and the import goes far beyond that. Of, say, 10 people i’ve shared Passionate Marriage with in the last few years, 9 have said they found it very helpful, and one was so put off by the author’s tone that he couldn’t take in any of the information. He’s very confident and can come across as aggressive at times; still there’s a clarity and courage that, for me, far outweighs that edge.
5. Narbonic! Narbonic, Narbonic, Narbonic. Webcomic that ran for 6 years, by the amazing Shaenon K. Garrity, can be read online in original version and also the Director’s Cut, with interesting and worthwhile commentary. The strips are published in paper books as well (therefore qualifying as books i give to people, which i do!). OMG smart and funny and full of moments of awesome brilliance.
I also had a good friend start me on Liaden – so good! Best motto ever!
Narbonic!!! I read it, my kids read it, we continue to re-read it, and I gave one child a framed print from it for her 16th birthday. Shaennon is completely amazing, and I love all her work, even the ones that stop abruptly (I’m looking at Li’l Mell, and the college one with singing) or are about things I had never thought about before (hello X-files?).
If you’re up for web comics, you might like Ursula Vernon’s Digger books. they started on the web, and transitioned to print and won her a Hugo.
Where should someone start with Liaden?
I was started on the omnibus Partners in Necessity, which includes Conflict of Honors, Agent of Change, and Carpe Diem.
Since you already pegged Willis & Bujold I had to work a little harder.
Neil Gaiman. AMERICAN GODS is probably objectively awesome, but I like the sequel ANANSI BOYS better, and it works as a standalone. Hey, I have a soft spot for trickster stories and there’s this inspired bit with a lime towards the end of the book that shows that he’s learned a lot from traditions of oral storytelling. Also he has his fingers in so many pies that I can find something he’s written that appeals to almost everyone, and then they pick up his other books and it’s like a gateway into sublime weirdness
John Scalzi. His blog (whatever.scalzi.com) is often lovely. Also I have him to thank for helping me impress my brother-in-law. Guy’s favourite book was Starship Troopers by Heinlein and I went “Ugh, really?!” and gave him OLD MAN’S WAR for Christmas. We’re friends now.
Kameron Hurley. I’ve put her first book, GOD’S WAR, into the hands of at least three people. It’s not for everyone, but it is for anyone who’s drifting away from science fiction because they’re tired of reading heteronormative whitewashed space westerns with characters as deep as cardboard. The books are full of brown faces, badass women, a thorough queering of structured gender, bloody war, and bugs. Seriously bugs. The dominant tech she writes about involves the genetic manipulation of insects. She has some short stories online that are a good way to get a taste for her work for free, but her novels are full-immersion weird; you might have to read the first chapter twice before you go on.
Ursula K Leguin. Anything except her poetry. I have tried to like her verses and they just don’t do it for me, but THE TELLING is a nice standalone in one of her universes. Also there’s some nice interlocking threads between storytelling and resistance.
Margaret Atwood. Because feminist, because reluctant sci-fi, because CanLit. I don’t recommend people start with THE HANDMAID’S TALE because that tends to be pretty polarizing; instead I steer them towards something like LADY ORACLE which is about a woman who fakes her death and runs away to Tuscany. That’s not a spoiler, that’s how it STARTS.
And shoot, I’ve run out of room and there’s no space for my favourite prairie poet.
I recently read Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, and it’s amazing. I could have done without the latter third of the book, but it’s worth reading for the rest of it.
It’s been ages since I read Cat’s Eye, but I think I remember a character thinking everyone else in the world is a grown-up and she’s only pretending? That caught my attention like whoa. And I always love Atwood’s /writing/, even when her characters occasionally make me want to throw the book at the wall.
I cannot even tell you how delighted I was to learn that Southern Ontario Gothic is considered an actual GENRE.
Clearly I need to put Kameron Hurley on my “to read” list. I recced “Spin State” below, which is my go-to rec for “anyone who’s drifting away from science fiction because they’re tired of reading heteronormative whitewashed space westerns with characters as deep as cardboard” so it’s good to hear of other books also breaking that trend.
And, yes to Leguin! I love her short stories so much.
You do, you do! I fell for her short stories first. And then for her blog, which at the time was called Brutal Women at the time. And I obviously need to pick up Spin State soonest.
OMG yes, Old Man’s War!
Oh yes you and I definitely have overlap! Nail Gaiman is awesome, for my part I loved Good Omens, Stardust and his short story collections the most. Ursula Le Guin hell yeah!!! The Left Hand of Darkness is one of my favourite books ever, but The Dispossessed is also amazing. And Atwood is a genius, Cat’s Eye blew. me. away.
Good Omens is a longtime fave, and I gave it to my sister to get her to read Terry Pratchett (she was already a Gaiman fan, also my influence, I am the best sister, clearly).
All of Margaret Atwood, all of the time! She is so brilliant. My current favorite of hers — they trade places all the time — is Alias Grace, a fictionalization of the real story of Grace Marks, a servant convicted of murder in 1843.
The book that I always recommend is The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – the premise is that Jesuits are the first people to receive communications from extraterrestrials, so they send an expedition to the alien planet. It’s an examination of how different people deal with their faith (which I find really interesting as a mostly-agnostic person), an ode to chosen family, and a compelling mystery.
The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken is a sweetly-written story of a small-town librarian and the world’s tallest boy – I loved the narrator’s voice.
Is The Handmaid’s Tale too obvious? Has everyone read that one already? Whenever I find anyone that hasn’t, I always recommend it.
You know – I have a friend who really likes The Sparrow, but I’ve been afraid to try it because he likes such grimdark things. How dark is it? If you’ve read Earthship Starsong, is it as dark as that? The premise is fascinating, but I really can’t do anything too dark.
There are some quite harrowing situations in The Sparrow. It’s not grimdark, there is hope and stuff, but not the type of image you may want in your head.
Do they make it all right?
Yes, it’s dark, in a horrible-things-done-to-people way, for values of “people” that includes nonhuman characters.
Mary Doria Russell is so good! Dreamers of the Day and Doc aren’t dark and scary/sad the way that The Sparrow and Children of God are, if anybody wants to start with her historical fiction.
I loved The Sparrow, but almost wish it and Children of God were both one big book.
My recommendation is a trilogy. THE NEWSFLESH trilogy by Mira Grant. The books are in order called Feed, Deadline and Blackout. They are a-typical and seriously funny books about zombies. But not only zombies; there are miniature pugs and conspiracies and political intrigue!
They stick up a bit from the typical zombie literature and they’re funny but these books also made me tear up more than once. More than anything I really cared about the characters.
And again I say, your user name is brilliant…
Oh goodness, yes, Newsflesh – how could you not love zombie lit from someone who has the CDC on speed dial? Also as her other name Seanan McGuire she does the October Daye series which is absolutely everything you could want from urban fantasy.
Seconding both of these! The Incryptid series is lighter than both, but also fun if you want something fluffy.
Throwing in my kudos here, these are lovely.
I definitely recommend feed. And I shake my fist at audible because they don’t currently have either deadline/blackout or the Incryptid series. Grrrr.
No? They used to, that’s where I got all of mine.
Grant has a few short stories available as well, and for my money “Apocalypse Scenario #683: The Box” is all the awesome of the Newsflesh series distilled down into one super-quick read.
I have a friend who has been trying to get me to read these for ages, and this tread pushed me over the edge. 🙂 I ordered the box set on Amazon. $20 for the whole thing, not too bad!
1. Sherlock Holmes. There’s a reason he’s possibly the most well-known fictional character in the world.
2. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Yes, it’s extremely wordy. It’s also a riveting story.
3. Last and First Men & Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon — for SF fans who like worldbuilding (and can put up with a certain amount of preachiness and slightly disturbing morality). These books are each basically 1/3 philosophical preaching and 2/3 worldbuilding porn.
4. The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle — for SF fans who like first contact stories, this is a must-read.
5. How I Killed Pluto (and Why It Had It Coming) by Mike Brown. Very entertaining memoir by the guy who made the discovery that led to Pluto’s demotion.
Victor Hugo is an amazing storyteller. I should read Les Mis, I loved the book of Notre Dame.
The two books I will pimp to anyone and everyone until the day I die are Don’t Bite the Sun and its sequel Drinking Sapphire Wine by Tanith Lee. I believe you can currently buy both in a single volume under the title Biting the Sun. They’re post-scarcity sci-fi, written in the late 70s/early 80s, and quite unlike anything I’ve ever read before or since.
I have the first line memorized, because it’s such a great example of an opening line:
“My friend Hergal had killed himself again.”
!!! Somebody else recommended Biting the Sun. *happy dance*
I love those books! I’d completely forgotten about them, but they were thoughtful and lovely.
1. Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee. Not at all a well-known book, but I love it to pieces. It’s this very surrealist social commentary SF about a utopian (/dystopian) society in which AI cyborgs run everything, humans are encouraged to devote their lives to mindless pleasure-seeking, and suicide is a common habit among people who want to get themselves a new body. Also, the unnamed narrator has this absolutely wonderful blend of peevish immaturity and stubborn courage that is just wonderful to read.
2. Rose Madder by Stephen King. Very dark, and the descriptions of Rosie’s violently abusive marriage are as horrific as only Stephen King could write, but I love this nonetheless. Rosie is such a wonderfully complex character, Norman is such a terrifying villain, and King manages to write the ‘abused woman runs away from her awful husband’ without falling into any of the common pitfalls. And there’s also the wonderfully creepy dark mirror-verse that lives inside a painting she finds at a pawnshop, which is just…full of spoilers, but amazing.
I am sure I will think of more, but those two are the ones that I keep recommending over and over again.
Rose Madder is the one Stephen King novel I find myself reading again and again. Rose feels absolutely REAL…she’s a tremendously well-developed character. I don’t think King ever topped this in terms of writing a strong female character
Rose Madder is great. King’s series of books with woman protagonists–Rose Madder, Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne, and the Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon–are all ones that I go back to over and over again.
DANDELION WINE by Ray Bradbury: the book I reread whenever I need to remind myself that there is joy in the simple act of living. (There is also sadness, and fear, and longing, but it’s the joy that continues to bring me back.)
ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE and WHICH LIE DID I TELL? by William Goldman: two seriously funny books about being a screenwriter and dealing with the realities of working in, with, and for Hollywood.
THE PRINCESS BRIDE, also by William Goldman: because the movie is amazing and the book is even better. Some of the funniest parts of the book could never, ever translate to the screen.
THE SILMARILLION, by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien): if you thought the appendices to Lord of the Rings were boring, skip this one. But if, like me, you tore through them, and you’re a mythology nerd, you will LOVE the Silmarillion. It’s like every Greek or Norse epic rolled up together. There’s one brief scene with two long-separated brothers that absolutely broke my heart.
SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, by Orson Scott Card: For my money, this is the most empathetic novel he has written, with deep insights into the meaning and value of community and how people find (define) their places within their communities. The hero of the story is probably TOO perfectly insightful, but that’s a minor flaw in one of my favorite books ever. **DISCLAIMER** I know OSC is a controversial author, and I fully support anyone who doesn’t want to read his work, ever. But if this interests you and you don’t want to give him any money, I would encourage you to check the book out of your local library, or buy a copy at a used book store. IMO, it’s worth the read.
Dandelion Wine! I will always remember the first time I read Bradbury’s chapter on what it feels like to get new tennis shoes. That man could write like almost nobody else.
Ohhh I adore Dandelion Wine. Good recommendation!
I read the Princess Bride as a kid and I was convinced for years that there really truly was a Morgenstern edition. I kept looking for it, hoping to finally read all those pages about the hats.
I had this same problem!
I read it when I really should have known better than to think the Morgenstern edition, but as I love all sorts of comedy of manners-type stories, I kept thinking “NO why would you leave out all the courtly nonsense? That sounds great!”
Silmarillion fan high five! 🙂 It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you are into mythology and epics and tragedy and wanted to know things like why Galadriel was so weird about going West or Elrond’s backstory or who Gandalf was anyway, it will be for you.
I second the recommendation of Speaker for the Dead. I find it mildly hilarious due to the author’s personal beliefs that the book paints a vivid picture of the cultural basis and bias of morality: how what is completely immoral in one culture is morally right in another. To this day I’m unsure if that was OSC’s intention in writing the book – but it’s still an excellent book in its own right.
Readers should be warned for what I recall as being a pretty vivid description of a mass murder.
1) Regeneration by Pat Barker (really, the whole trilogy) – amazing, historically accurate, World War I story that starts with the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen meeting in a hospital and expands from there. Pat Barker is one of those authors who I will read and periodically pause and admire at the pure creative beauty of how she constructs a sentence.
2) Spin State by Chris Moriarty (also, the sequel, Spin Control – which is even better) – science fiction that does an equally good job with the science, the humanity, and the world building. The main character is a bisexual, part-clone, part-human, part-cyborg Asian female soldier. The secondary main character is a very old Jewish artificial intelligence who, among other things, wants equal rights for AI’s. The plot evolves around the death of a scientist in a poor mining town and whenever I try to explain how amazing these books are and how wonderful they are at grappling with the idea of how we define who is and isn’t human, who is and isn’t “other”, I just end up flailing.
3) Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein – WWII historical fiction. Female friendship. It is amazing and will make you cry and it’s almost impossible to say much more without spoiling everything.
4) Stories of Your Life and Others – Ted Chiang – brilliantly creative collection of science fiction short stories.
I just recc’d Codename Verity. It is *so good* isn’t it? And the audio book is also terrific.
And, since I am mentioning audiobooks, I also suggest Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, as read by Heaney. “Behavior that’s admired is the path to power among people everywhere.” So much to think about in just that one line. *shiver.*
Oh, that’s good to know about the audiobook – I wondered if it would hold up in that format. Although, given that I tend to listen to audiobooks while walking or washing glassware in lab, I probably shouldn’t choose a story that makes me sob.
Ah, yes. No, no. Get Beowulf instead, in that instance.
I didn’t know about the audiobook, but since your comment I got it and am listening to it. WOW AMAZING. The accents and acting are *so perfect* and when Verity started singing every hair on my body stood straight up.
Glad to see someone else recommend the Regeneration Trilogy! I read it in ’98 or ’99 and few people seem to have heard of it, but it was formative for me as a person (I included it in my rec’s but it’s in the spam filter right now.)
The Regeneration Trilogy is so amazing! Pat Barker is now an author from whom I will happily read anything just for how she uses language, but that trilogy will always have a special place in my heart.
Coincidence! I ordered Spin State online last week.
And all the other books you mentioned are books I REALLY REALLY LOVE.
The title story in that Ted Chiang collection is really excellent science fiction that also absolutely guts me every time I read it (but in a good way.
Code Name Verity was just. Yeah. You read it, you know.
And Pat Barker had me with the quotation on the first page from the letter, and then became one of the few authors I trust to write psychologists/psychiatrists/etc.
Yay Spin State! I hope you like it, and if you do the second book is 100 times better.
And I love your taste in books 🙂
[I just saw that the rights to Stories of Your Life got acquired to be made into an independent film – it would be amazing if they did it *right*]
Oh I love the Regeneration Trilogy so much! I wrote my dissertation on it and my dream is to adapt it into a play.
Just one of my favourite ever novels. Ever.
Code Name Verity is really good, but about 500 times more harrowing than I was expecting. The blurb said something like ‘a heartwarming tale of female friendship’…
It is heartwarming because it DOUSED YOUR HEART IN KEROSENE AND LIT IT ON FIRE. 😦
Yep. YA books – because actual adults aren’t tough enough to read them..
I laugh because it’s funny but also because it’s SO TRUE. I read it and cried forever. Ok, not really forever, but seriously, so good and also so harrowing and yet I still found it almost…uplifting? I dunno how to describe it. I am not usually into depressing books, but this one was also inspiring, uplifting, bittersweet, but with emphasis on the sweet. Just so those fellow “not into the grimdark” people out there have another opinion.
It’s not grimdark because in CNV, there are worse things than dying, and better things than living in comfort to old age. So it’s absolutely harrowing, but I love it so.
I’m not sure whether I’m brave enough to read her next book, ‘Rose under fire’, which is set IN A CONCENTRATION CAMP, among the women subject to medical experimentation.
Oh, god, I LOVE Code Name Verity and it is AMAZING in how it portrays female friendship, but “heartwarming” is not a term I would ever use (except for maybe in the way staranise described it). Luckily I had some idea that it would Not Be A Happy Book going into it (though I was grateful to not be spoiled beyond that, personally) because, yeah, if you were expecting heartwarming female friendship that would be a surprise.
I’m fanatical enough about the following books that they go everywhere I do (specifically, I’m in college and they come with me for every new semester). They’re my ‘comfort books’, where some people have comfort blankets. Seriously.
1. The Graceling trilogy, by Kristin Cashore – about, respectively, a young woman struggling to reclaim her identity after being raised as a weapon (1), a young woman who is supernaturally attractive who doesn’t want to become her abusive father (2), and a young queen who has to rebuild a kingdom she inherited from a psychopath with the ability to make people believe his lies (3). They’re *gorgeous* stories (seriously, there is not a WORD out of place) and they include some of the ONLY romantic subplots that I actually don’t mind in novels.
2. The Adoration of Jenna Fox, by Mary E Pearson. There’s not much I can say about the plot without spoiling it but – Jenna awakens from a coma with little memory of her life before, but is aware that something seems… off. It’s sci-fi and a really great treatment of humanity, what it is, how we get it, and the line between belief and reality.
3. The Abhorsen trilogy, by Garth Nix. (1) Sabriel, the Abhorsen-in-Waiting to her father, must venture into the Old Kingdom, a place where the dead can be raised and the Abhorsen must put them to rest, when he disappears. (2) Lirael, a Daughter of the Clayr, is forced to leave her safe mountain home to find out who she is and what exactly she’s supposed to do with her life. (3) is a direct sequel to Lirael and ties into Sabriel as well.
4. Anything by Tamora Pierce. She writes beautifully about some of the strongest, most fully-developed female heroines you’ll find. Set in a faux-Medieval world of her own making, most of her books tie into each other with both character and plot. I’m especially fond of Wild Magic and the Beka Cooper trilogy because I love Daine and Beka, the main characters.
5. Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat, by Hal Herzog. For a COMPLETE change of pace, this is a nonfiction book for any animal or science fan. It’s an honest, comprehensive overview of the human relationship with nonhuman animals, from our cuisine to our religion, science, environmentalism, and household pets.
Since you’ve mentioned one writer on my list and two that I absolutely adore and are similarly comfort reading I now have to put The Adoration of Jenna Fox and the Hal Herzog book on my Amazon wishlist.
I picked up Some We Love, Some We hate, Some We Eat solely because of the cover and while I found the writing disjointed at times, it was an absolutely fascinating book and reshaped the way that I think about all manner of human-animal relationships.
Tamora Pierce’s books and the Garth Nix’s are also on my comfort-books list. I’ve read the “protector of the small” series and the Abhorsen trilogy several times through.
Beka Cooper was amazing – it’s medieval girl power cop drama! Sabriel was super-atmospheric and just really nice.
Oh yes, Abhorsen Trilogy all the way! 🙂 So awesome, and the 2nd and 3rd books speak so well about being who you ARE, not who others think you should be.
Also all Tamora Pierce, but I’d say my favorite is the Protector of the Small series, because as Alanna herself say, Kel is so blessedly real.
Tamora Pierce never seemed to catch the It’s Cool For Adults To Read YA Novels wave, and she really deserves to. Great stuff.
My burning question is, will Dove ever get her own series?
I would love for Dove to get her own series. The two Trickster books are my favorite. I do find that Pierce’s heroines tend to be a teeny bit too Mary Sue for me sometimes, but her world-building is detailed and vivid.
OMG, can I please give you a huge jedi hug? The Song of the Lioness books are my lost books. I read them when they first came out and somehow forgot about them but I need them in my life again. Thank you so much!
TAMMY! I’m going to add a shout out to her Circle of Magic series, which usually gets overlooked because Tortall is so awesome. Circle is pitched at younger readers than her Tortall books, at least prose-wise but deals with the “grown up” issues that kids deal with all the time. It’s got a craft-based magic system, three female and one male protagonist, all orphans, who are being raised as siblings by a couple (as in couple, not as in two) of magical priestesses. They deal with earthquakes, pirates, plague, wildfire, bureaucracy, and, in the second quartet, serial murderers, street gangs, drug dealers, and arsonists. (There, I don’t think that was spoilery.)
Also, Tris is awesome.
It frustrates me to no end that I can’t find any of the Circle books for my Nook except The Will of the Empress. Which I love, but I desperately want to read the others again too! Argh!
Yes, yes, yes to the Graceling Trilogy! I reread them every few months and I love them just as much as I did the first time!
Your list is amazing, and I have added the 2 I haven’t read onto my to-read list, because you clearly have excellent taste!
Captain Awkward, if you’re a fan of badass lady pirates you should check out Cinnamon And Gunpowder by Eli Brown. I read it a few weeks ago and enjoyed it immensely – probably one of my favorite books I’ve read that was published in the last year.
Forgot to leave a brief synopsis! Here it is: badass lady pirate kidnaps a talented chef and forces him to cook for her on her ship. Solid characterization and engaging story.
Samuel Delaney’s Neveryon trilogy – mythic fake anthropology, smart race analysis, gay sex, bdsm, and the height of the aids crisis…in a fantasy trilogy
Lakoff and Johnson ‘Metaphors we Live by’ – how language (and particularly metaphor) shapes thinking, clearly explained by two linguists
‘Drunk from the Bitter Truth: the Poems of Anna Margolin’ – there isn’t a ton of well-translated-into-English Yiddish literature, especially poetry, but this one is lovely.
1) American Gods and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. His other books, as well, but they are my go-to books for people who “don’t like fantasy/genre fiction.”
2) Locke & Key (written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez) is one of my favourite comics to recommend, for people who are newcomers to the genre.
3) The Old Kingdom trilogy by Garth Nix. The plot might be a bit sketchy and very strangely paced, but I fell in love with the setting as a kid, and that love has lasted. A nice quick YA read.
4) The Gun Machine by Warren Ellis. This is the traditional “pulp NYC cop book” but much more complex. Warning: Warren Ellis is usually a comic writer, and I find this influences the visuals used in the book. Maybe not something to read over lunch.
5) I think this is past what most people are looking for here, but the Smitten Kitchen cookbook by Deb Perelman. Everything I’ve made from it (or from her website) has been fantastic, and she has a good grasp of the practicalities of apartment cooking. Seriously, though, make the buttered popcorn cookies. You won’t regret it.
I would like to recommend, specifically, the “author’s preferred text” version of American Gods. I didn’t really love the book until I read the full text that Neil Gaiman intended, before the publishers made him cut it down.
I don’t believe that I’ve actually read that. I’ve just read and reread a battered old paperback. Thanks for the recommendation!
What abhorsen327 said! (Must go find said edition)
Well, since we’re supposed to give warnings, I’ll try to provide some. This is by no means a comprehensive list.
American Gods is very violent and graphic in its imagery. I don’t recall anything particular about Neverwhere, since it’s been quite a while since I’ve read it.
Locke & Key gets a lot of warnings: death of a parent, violence, violence toward gay characters, shaming of a gender-fluid child, racial privilege, sexual assault, verbal abuse of an adult child, and verbal abuse of a developmentally-disabled child are the ones that spring to mind. The narrative treats all these things as bad, but they’re still there.
The Old Kingdom trilogy has violence, attempted suicide, and depression.
The Gun Machine primarily has violence and extremely graphic descriptions.
I tend to think in terms of authors, in that if I like one book they’ve written I will seek out everything else they’ve ever done, so
1. TAMORA PIERCE The top of my list, in that I will go on and on about her books at the drop of a hat. Multiple well rounded female characters! Discussions about puberty/sexual health! Heroines who have multiple sexual partners and realistic relationships without being shamed (or at least not by the author)! The existence of gay and trans people acknowledged (although that is much shakier ground)! My personal favourite is the Protector Of The Small series.
2. CHINA MIEVILLE Definitely not for everyone but I really enjoyed his Bas Lag Trilogy, purple prose and all. From experience I know that even people who wouldn’t go anywhere near that enjoyed The City And The City.
3. PAT BARKER Specifically the Regeneration series, but I’ve liked the other stuff I’ve read as well, despite it not being my normal sort of reading.
4. JASPER FFORDE I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Thursday Next series except that it’s been far too long since I had the chance to read it myself. I love the Nursery Crimes stuff as I love anything that uses or retells nursery rhymes and fairy tales.
5. ROBIN MCKINLEY Someone on the forums (I think it was Staranise but I don’t remember) mentioned Deerskin in one of the threads and since that’s based on a version of my favourite fairy tale I bought that and Rose Daughter which is one of two versions of Beauty and the Beast she’s written. I would not recommend Deerskin to anyone (not because it’s bad but oh my god does that book need a trigger warning). Instead I’ll recommend the book I’m reading now, Sunshine, particularly to anyone who likes vampires but isn’t especially interested in anything Twilight related.
My favorite Robin McKinleys are “Beauty” and “Spindle’s End.” I love fairy tale retellings.
I thought the similarities and differences between Beauty and Rose Daughter were really interesting. Aside from Robin McKinley I think one of my favourite fairy tale retellings is Ella Enchanted. I read it a long time ago but I thought the idea of being cursed into obedience was really fascinating.
The Thursday Next series is one of my favorite things ever and I lost my copies in a move and am desperately hoping the new Amazon buying-books-you’ve-purchased-cheaper-on-kindle includes them because I’ll have to buy them all new again otherwise.
Yes! to Tamora Pierce! I discovered her Song of the Lioness series in middle school, and it totally blew my mind. Nearly 20 years later, I still think about those books all the time.
I love Robin McKinley so, so much. “The Hero and the Crown” was the one that got me through middle and high school–taught me what it means to be a hero, and that I could be one. “Deerskin” is amazing, but yeah, ALL the triggers. (I actually found it very healing.)
I named my first child Aerin. She isn’t a redhead, but she’s fierce.
I literally came here and did a Ctrl-F for “Sunshine” by Robin McKinley. Emphatically cosigned. I recommend it to people who say they enjoyed Twilight, when I feel like I want to make a positive change in the world. (I also recommend it to everyone else in general. And I would love to see a Old World of Darkness scenario written about it – Vampire, Mage, and probably a ton of the other stuff too.)
Trans people exist in Tamora Pierce’s universes? Cool! Which ones? I still have yet to read the Circle of Magic series and the Bekka Cooper books.
There is a character in the Beka Cooper books who (if I’m remembering correctly) lives as a man with their boyfriend but dresses as a woman at their job as a singer and I think talks about having a woman’s soul. I’m not sure I’d class it as one of the best representations of a trans person but I don’t come across many others in fantasy books so I thought it worth mentioning.
Yes, it’s in the second Beka Cooper book, Bloodhound. It’s not the best trans* representation (mostly because of misgendering issues and some lack of clarity about Amber/(Okha)’s preferences about being gendered), but Amber/(Okha) is a very sympathetic character and is more than just a trans* person–she has some very good characterization and is pretty freaking badass.
The Bone Palace, Amanda Downing (2nd in a series, probably not a good standalone) has (I thought) a really well written trans character. The first book is quite solid also.
Also my girlfriend points out that there is The Collection (Topside Press), an anthology of non-erotic, non-biographical trans fiction. There is some sci-fi in, but maybe not any fantasy.
I love Robin McKinley and will occassionaly use Deerskin as a way to warn people that they may not completely agree with my taste in books. I loved Sunshine so much, I keep wishing McKinley wrote more series books so I could get more in that world!
Seconding the trigger warning on McKinley’s Deerskin. It’s a fantastic book, but seriously intense (rape, incest, and miscarriage, if anyone wants the specifics, and the rape and incest are the same event).
Sunshine is amazing, but ends a bit abruptly. McKinley says she plans a sequel, which the book badly needs. It also is the kind of book that requires reading at least twice to really get a handle on what’s going on, due to the author’s somewhat rambling style of storytelling.
McKinley plans a sequel, possibly two, to Pegasus, but there’s no sequel planned for Sunshine (there’s info on her website about that). The end of Sunshine has never bothered me – but I agree about the rereading. I wasn’t sure I liked it the first time I read it, and now it’s one of my favorite books.
For people who want to ease into China Mieville, I would also recommend The City and The City. I found Perdido Street Station too triggering (animal cruelty), but loved The City and The City.
p.s. i currently have the window to my library open and am requesting books as i read this thread. thataway i can just pop on over and pick them up tomorrow afternoon. funville!!!!!
Yay! More things to add to my reading list. Someone already mentioned Dorothy Sayers up thread so I don’t need to plug her.
My suggestions (all relatively on the light side except for Louise Penny):
1. Louise Penny writes an incredibly lyrical mystery series set in Canada. I strongly recommend reading the series in order because she weaves various story threads through all the books. That said my fave book in the series is Bury Your Dead – which still takes my breath away.
2.Dick Francis is dead but I still re-read all his novels every year. His son Felix has taken over and turns out relatively good versions as well.
3.Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder novels. They leave me crying with laughter every time. Dortmunder is a thief whose plans always dissolve in bizarre ways. (Some of these books are dated and the language can be less than politically correct.)
4. Donna Andrews writes a “cozy” mystery series about Meg Langslow, a blacksmith/amateur sleuth with a loony family.
5. Jennifer Crusie writes romance novels, but they have heart and humor (and sex).
I know someone who is rationing out the Dortmunder novels at a rate of one per year, to be read Christmas Day, because you should do something you love on Christmas Day. I haven’t gotten to them myself yet, but he reads snippets and I’m always reduced to a giggling mess.
And the lovely thing is that you will still fall off your chair laughing on the nth re-read. They never lose their ridiculousness. Sometimes I start to snicker when I’m pages out from a great part (which is why I always read them in private so I don’t creep out the public!)
Totally seconding Jenny Crusie; smart, funny, sideways women who win big, with extra lashings of banter. She also co-wrote a bunch with friends and also Bob Mayer – since I would read her version of a phone book, I can cheerfully recommend those as well, with the caveat that you can see the lines between various authors in the multi-author works. She’s around the web also; her blog is at arghink.com, and there is Reinventing Fabulous at reinventingfabulous.com
I’m really enjoying the Reinventing Fabulous blog! One of many that gives me hope.
I read the Dortmunder novels as a child, and later, trying to describe them to my husband, thought that perhaps I had just made them up, because I had never met anyone else who had read them and I had never seen them for sale or referenced in literature. (Except for a passing reference in Firefly – an Alliance ship is named Dortmunder.)
Arguing amicably, we pulled into a remote English pub in an unpopulated area and found a bookshelf in the corner selling books for £1. Which had two Dortmunder novels.
Reader, he bought them for me.
You guys, you’re so awesome. I’m making a list of recommendations, so I can broaden my horizons and read something besides the books we have in the house.
Oh god, this is going to make my Goodreads to-read list even more ridiculously long than it already is, I can tell.
– Megan Whalen Turner’s “Thief” series. Four books so far, with a fifth supposedly on the way at some point. It is a series that follows the same group of characters, BUT each book is its own self-contained story. No cliffhangers here. Turner is a master of verbal sleight-of-hand. Trust me on this. Try to go in as unspoiled as possible.
– “A Northern Light” by Jennifer Donnelly. Historical fiction with a feminist slant, set around a true murder mystery in 1906. (If you’ve ever read/heard of “An American Tragedy,” it’s the same murder.) A young Appalachian farm girl takes a job at a resort to try and help her family, & gets drawn in to the life of the murder victim, which causes her to think about the limited choices that women have and whether she will ever be able to realize her own dreams. Um, it’s way better than I’m making it sound? It’s SO GOOD, you guys. I cannot describe. *flail*
– “The Westing Game” by Ellen Raskin. I thought everyone had read this Newbery winner as a kid, but talking to some friends, I realized a lot of people missed out on it. That’s okay though, because it’s seriously just as good when you read it as an adult, and maybe better because you catch references to things that go over your head as a child. The characters in the book are people from various backgrounds who would have probably never socialized under normal circumstances, but they are all named in the unusual will of millionaire businessman Sam Westing, which forces them to work together to solve his murder in order to win his money. It’s part murder mystery, part word-puzzle (but it’s way more fun to watch the characters try to solve the puzzle than to do it yourself), filled with delightful puns and double-meanings, and a wonderfully drawn cast of characters. Worth a second reading once you know the ending. (And a third, and a fourth…)
– “Poison Study” by Maria Synder. A young woman has killed her abuser, but the ruler of her country says there is no excuse for murder, and the punishment is death. But at the last minute she is offered a choice: Die, or become the ruler’s poison-taster, with a chance of death every time she takes a bite. She figures possible death is better than certain death, but her job as poison-taster gets her involved in things she never bargained for. An interesting exploration of a communist state vs a capitalist state, oddly enough, and also, chocolate.
(My recommendation: SKIP THE SEQUELS, especially the sequel series about a minor character from the first series. They will only disappoint.)
– “Dogsbody” by Diana Wynne Jones. Another of those kids’ books where a lot of the subtleties went over my head as a child, so reading it as an adult is that much more satisfying. In the celestial realm, Sirius the Dog Star is accused of murder (apparently all my favorite books contain murder), and his punishment is to be forced to live as a lowly Earth-creature–a dog, of course. The book is from Sirius’s perspective, and he begins his punishment as a newborn puppy, blind and deaf and helpless. He is rescued by a young Irish girl, who takes him as her pet, and he offers her solace as she endures discrimination and abuse for being Irish in England (the part that I totally didn’t get as a kid). He wants to clear his name and get back to his place in the heavens, but how will he do this with only a dog’s skills at his disposal? Contains a character that will be familiar to lovers of pagan/faerie myths.
OOOH! You just reminded me of something with The Westing Game! From the Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. It’s a really, really good read. Another Newberry Medal book, too.
I love, love love everything by Ellen Raskin; I’m so glad you recommended her.
I read “The Westing Game” in 6th grade and really liked it!
YES to Turner’s Thief series! And yeah, they are hard to recommend without spoiling, but definitely read The Thief first.
1. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Jesuits! In space! Exploration both geographical and spiritual. Heartbreaking and beautiful. (I didn’t like and don’t recommend the sequel, though.)
2. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. Hilarious and educational.
3. The Fire’s Stone by Tanya Huff. A quest story, less about the result and more about the journey and the family you make. M/M.
4. Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman. Essays about books and book lovers. (At Large and At Small is also full of lovely essays but less about books.)
5. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. A novella, really, about what might happen if the Queen of England became a Reader.
(Seconding CA’s Tana French recommendation, I liked the other books on that ‘series’ too: Faithful Place and Broken Harbour.)
I haven’t read “A Walk in the Woods,” but one of my favorite books is Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” It’s a history of science, with lots of delightful anecdotes about the weird things scientists have done over the years.
I started reading Notes From a Small Island on a trip to London, and kept laughing aloud.
I have liked pretty much every Bryson book I’ve read. “A Walk in the Woods” is the one I go back to most often but they are all good.
I think I’ve read most of Bryson’s oeuvre, and enjoyed it, but “A Walk in the Woods” is the one I go back to the most. “A Short History of Nearly Everything” stymied me somewhat – too much technical science (that I didn’t understand) and not enough anecdotes. But I am going to try it again because I love Bryson Just That Much. And want to understand the science parts!
Yes to The Uncommon Reader! That’s one that I read in a binge at the library whilst waiting for family to check their books out. SO good.
OMG I just read The Fire’s Stone like a month ago for the first time (having read a bunch of Tanya Huff already) and couldn’t stop thinking about it! I read it and immediately wanted to reread it forever! So good!
Ooh, recommendations! 😀 My five people are:
1. TERRY PRATCHETT – Much of his work is a loving parody of high fantasy (or, in the case of “Strata” and “The Dark Side of the Sun”, sci-fi). He questions a lot of the traditional stuff, like why all dwarves seem like men. And he does it in a laugh-out-loud funny way – the looks I’ve gotten when shrieking with laughter on public transport…
2. DIANA WYNNE JONES – She does pretty much the same thing with fairy tales as Pratchett does with fantasy. My favourite is “Power of Three” because I love the way she uses the natural mysteriousness that moors have.
3. PATRICIA WREDE – Also fantasy/fairy tales with a thoughtul and funny twist. I especially like the Enchanted Forest Chronicles.
4. SARAH WATERS – Most of her books are set in the past, and many of them contain queer women, which is awesome. And her latest, “The Little Stranger”, has such and amazing twist at the end, I promise you it will creep you out in the most pleasantly surprising way.
5. CYNTHIA VOIGT – She writes a variety of different books, some in a more modern setting, but I like her (medieval fantasy) Kingdom Series best. Possibly because some of the books contain a “primitive” culture that is sort of cool in a scary way and which I suspect is at least partly based on my historical ancestors. And also I like trying to figure out how the main characters in the different books relate to each other, since it’s sort of complicated.
Now that I see it written down, it occurs to me that a lot of these are books meant for children or young adults. I dunno, I like them anyway. I still find new things in Pratchett’s books – it took me until last month to get the thing with Mrs. Palm…
I am a big Jackaroo fan. Yay for Voigt!
I bought Jackaroo used from the library for 0.5€. Best deal I’ve ever found 😀
All of my recs are children’s/young adult books too. I see no problem with this 😉
OMG Patricia Wrede! Now there’s a flashback to my childhood. 1000% yes to this. My niece was telling me the other day that she’s started to read The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (she’s six), and her reason for enjoying them is that she “really likes books with a strong female woman.”
(Translation of 6-year-old to English: she likes stories where the narrative centres on a strong female character. Even she’s started to realize that [age-appropriate] texts of this nature are hard to come by.)
Regarding P. Wrede: My now 15 year-old is still collecting skills to be a dragon’s princess. The kind that volunteers, not the kind that is abducted. She has cooking, fencing, archery, organizational skills, Latin (because no magic) and strong math (codes and ciphers) and chemistry skills.
I went as Princess Cimorene for Halloween once. One of my best friends at the time went as Morwen (complete with lots of Beanie Baby cats, because it was that time of the nineties). Sadly, nobody knew who we were. 😦
I would have known! Here, internet candy for your younger (awesome) self! And keep some for your current (awesome) self!
I LOVED Cynthia Voigt. I loved a lot of her books as a kid/teenager, but The Tillerman series really spoke to me. That feeling of loneliness really resonated with me, and I always envied Dicey’s self-reliance.
Love all of the Tillerman books, including the ones about those not directly related (Come a Stranger and A Solitary Blue, for instance). I think The Runner was my favorite – something about Bullet confronting his own prejudice in the way he did really spoke to me when I was younger, and has stuck with me.
Yay Diana Wynne Jones! I particularly like Howl’s Moving Castle there, because SOPHIE <33333, and the Chrestomanci series just because, and of course Power of Three is awesome, and… yeah, actually, this probably amounts to "all of her work".
I love all those writers! I just want to add that Aunt Maria by Diana Wynne Jones is a great intro to feminism for young readers.
What a good idea! I’m going to bookmark this for the next time I hit up the library.
The Orphan’s Tales (In the Night Garden and In the Cities of Coin and Spice), by Cathrynne Valente
Each book is a set of intricately-nested narratives featuring seemingly-unrelated characters and events, but eventually they resolve into one large narrative. The language is purposefully very flowery and it can be difficult to keep track of the narrative threads at times, but it’s worth the effort. I have liked almost everything Valente’s written (her Dirge for Prester John series is also worth a look), but this is my favorite of hers.
The Xenogenesis Trilogy (Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago, although they’re often sold together in one volume called Xenogenesis) by Octavia Butler
This is NOT a comfort read, but it’s a fantastic series. There’s not much I can say without spoiling things, but things start out when an alien race comes to Earth at a point when humanity is on the way to extinction and offers one woman a way to save humanity. The series deals with consent and bodily autonomy in a way I found intense and upsetting at the time (I took a break between books 2 and 3 to read a fluffy dog-training book), but it’s the sort of challenging book that I think is really important to read.
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Yes, it’s a book about a young man going to a magic school, but it’s not a Harry Potter-esque story. It’s a much more cynical take on the idea of a hidden world of magic, with an often-unlikable protagonist, but he’s sympathetic even when I’m rolling my eyes at him. There’s a lot of good content about waiting for things to be perfect until your life can really start and an interesting system of magic. I was skeptical about the idea of a sequel, but I found it almost as good; the fist book stands on its own, though.
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Another book of his was mentioned upthread, but I want to recommend his first novel as well. There are three intertwined narratives that touch on family history, secrets, friendship, being vegetarian in Ukraine, and a dog named Sammy Davis Junior, Junior. The friendship between the two main characters is one of my favorite relationships in fiction.
Bonus: the film, while not as good as the book, features Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz as Alex.
I will second CA’s suggestion of Cordelia’s Honor and Bujold’s other books in the Vorkosigan series. They are a delight! I read about half of the series this past fall when I was recovering from surgery and they were a great help to me in that sad and painful time. I think it’s best to read this with the backstory that the earlier books give you, but A Civil Campaign stands well on its own and is probably the most hilarious of the series. BUTTER BUGS!
When you read the Orphan’s Tales, also go to SJ Tucker’s bandcamp and listen to the following albums:
These are the companion albums to the Orphan’s Tales and absolutely essential listening.
Oh my goodness, I didn’t know about these! I am going to do a re-read of these soon and I will definitely listen when I do it. Thank you!!!
I Nth the Vorkosigan series books. I don’t know if this one will hold up without having read the ones that come before it, but the book that I keep coming back to time and again is Memory. Especially now that I’m involved in elder care of loved ones whose memories don’t work as they’re supposed to, I find the book is an excellent echo of the struggles and sources of hope in that work.
Memory is SO GOOD. I have a friend who reads it about once a year, and because I knew she liked it so much I was afraid my expectations for that one would be too high, and I’d be disappointed.
I was not.
I wanted to read all the comments in this thread before I made my own recommendations, but I definitely planned on including The Magicians! I LOVE this series, and I actually was more interested in the second book (The Magician King) than in the first although I guess that’s a YMMV thing. This series has a unique take on magic that I haven’t seen before, and it’s fantastical and interesting without falling into the trite pitfalls of a lot of genre fiction (you’ll find these on the “literature” shelves, not fantasy). I’ve heard these called “grown up Harry Potter” before and I don’t really think that’s accurate–it’s more a post-modern literary take on children’s fantasy. There’s a direct analog to Narnia in this series, so if you’ve read those before you’ll definitely find that interesting. This tends to be a love it or hate it series, but I definitely fall in the “love it” camp and recommend it highly. As far as content warnings go, they can be pretty bleak (the post-modern “there is no meaning” hangs strong in these books), and there’s a lot of off the wall sexual content, as well as a rape scene in book 2.
THE MAGICIANS is now on my list. I read some of the first chapter on Amazon, and it looks interesting.
I caught the Narnia analog right away, but I still had to look up Fillory and Further to see if it was a real series that I’d somehow missed in childhood. It was not. Apparently a lot of people look it up, though, because “Fillory and Further” auto-filled in the Amazon search field as soon as I got to “Fillor.” 🙂
The books I’m always recommending:
1. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
2. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.
3. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield (be aware that this book contains animal abuse and sexual assault).
4. For anyone who likes fantasy (or even if they don’t but are willing to try it), the Belgariad and Mallorean series, starting with Pawn of Prophecy, by David Eddings.
5. This is nonfiction, but I recommend Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee to anyone whose life is even remotely affected by the intersections of Christianity and the LGBTQ community.
Did you read Niffenegger’s second book “Her Fearful Symmetry”? I liked it, though I’m afraid to say too much about my impressions for fear of giving stuff away (I just deleted a bunch of stuff because I realizes it could spoil the effect even while being vague.)
(quicky summary: a pair of identical twins learn of their mother’s identical twin when they inherit her apartment and she starts trying to communicate with them.)
To anyone who likes ‘Her Fearful Symmetry,’ I also highly recommend the BOOK ‘The Prestige.’ If you’ve seen the movie, you have no idea of the twists of the actual story. Read the book. It’s gorgeous and sinister as heck.
I feel like I read it after seeing the movie… why can’t I remember anything? silly me.
The Belgariad and Mallorean are my “second home” books, and crystallized my idea of the tea litmus for reading. The tea litmus is just asking yourself if you’d like to spend an afternoon having tea with the protagonists – if yes, I consider the book worth my time, and if no, I move on. I would pretty much move in with the protagonists of the Belgariad.
WISDOM SITS IN PLACES– Keith Basso. About Apache place names and the importance they have in Apache society. Beautifully written.
CODENAME VERITY– YA novel, WWII lady-spy and lady-pilot story. If you wear mascara, consider waterproof. And make time for a page through after to see if you can find all the bits you missed.
thank you for “lady pilot story.” i am in the process of becoming a lady pilot, i do not know any other lady pilots, and am STARVING for anything i can read about them. There isn’t much.
I love Tana French!
Other favourite authors:
Neal Stephenson, especially,
*Reamde: it’s a 1000 page brick, but I basically got off my couch and started jumping up and down around page 250 and did so repeatedly throughout the rest of the story. Shit starts exploding and never stops.
*The Interface: I read this only recently, but it’s an older work of his that he did with his uncle (currently using the pseudonym J. Frederick George,) originally published under the joint pseudonym Stephen J. Bury. It’s a sci-fi political thriller set in the late 90s?, and the pacing is much tighter than some of other books he wrote alone earlier in his career.
*Snow Crash: this was the first of his novels I ever read, and I can only describe the reading experience as fast. It seemed like a unique narrative style that made me feel on the edge of my toes the whole time, though I felt the ending was kinda sloppy, like he ran out of steam. His other books haven’t had this exciting feeling of careening about, but it shares a lot of his favourite themes of computer science, cryptography, currency, memetics, history.
Douglas Coupland, particularly,
*All Families are Psychotic: semi-estranged family reunites for baby sister’s NASA launch. Everyone seems to be either HIV positive or pregnant. They drive each other crazy but it’s clear they love each other too.
*other favourites: Miss Wyoming, Microserfs, jPod, The Gum Thief
I read entirely too much series detective fiction. Love Michael Connelly, and P.D. James. Innocent Blood, one of her non-series works is about a young woman who learns at 18 on unsealing her adoption records that her parents were convicted of a notorious sex crime. She decides she wants to spend her last summer before college getting to know her mother who is about to be parolled.
Also part of my love for detective fiction, I’ve been reading classic noir from time to time. Raymond Chandler is so, so, awesome. His phrasing is really evocative.
When J.K. Rowling published her first post-Harry-Potter novel, The Casual Vacancy, I ignored it because I didn’t understand what the title was about. I finally got around to reading it recently, and I thought it was really great. I think I’ll hold this close to my heart for a long time. It’s about a small town fight over keeping/getting rid of a poor neighbourhood, keeping/getting rid of an addiction clinic. The characters are really well illustrated, and go towards a theme of how everyone fights private battles. Makes you wish we could all be kinder to each other.
A few more titles:
*The Time Traveller’s Wife: maybe kinda sappy, but inventive and innovative
*The Lovely Bones: I’m having a hard time remembering enough about this except that I enjoyed it a lot and like TTW was disappointed by how it was rendered as a movie.
*Girl, Interrupted: used to reread this a lot, but haven’t in a while. What I remember it for is its vividness.
*The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker (Regeneration, The Eye in the Door, The Ghost Road): WWI historical fiction with themes of pacifism and psychiatry. It’s been a long time since I read these, but they made a huge impression on me when I was on the cusp of adulthood in large part due to one of the psychiatry themes being about the importance of self-determination to maintaining sanity. This is why I get so angry at boundary-crossing asshole control freak behaviour. It’s an assault on ones mental health.
I recommend Guards, Guards, specifically out of the Discworld series. And then if they like that, I tell them to pick up Men at Arms and Feet of Clay. After Feet of Clay, they should be thoroughly hooked.
The Vorkosigan Saga, naturally. And also The Curse of Chalion.
The October Daye series and the InCryptid series by Seanan McGuire. Awesome, nuanced female protagonists, mysteries, excellent worldbuilding, exciting plots, wonderful inclusion of folklore and mythology
1: The Book of the Dun Cow and its sequel, The Book of Sorrows by Walter Wangerin, Jr. The Book of the Dun Cow is a rather straightforward religious allegory about a rooster defending his flock from evil. Being non-religious, it’s not something I would typically be interested in. However, The Book of Sorrows, while still an allegory, is much more mature and developed, and is the most powerful, affecting book I’ve ever read. I reread it several times a year, and never fail to be in tears by the end. It tackles all the ‘big’ themes of love, loss, sacrifice, forgiveness, and revenge with a deft hand, and even now, just thinking about it is making me tear up.
2. The Sparrow and its sequel Children of God by Mary Doria Russell. An alien planet is discovered and a group of Jesuit followers are sent to investigate. I can’t say much without spoiling the story, but I enjoy these books for the world-building aspects. There are certain parts I disagree with, but the alien cultures are fascinating and truly unique.
3. The Giver by Lois Lowry. I’m very much into dystopian stories, and this was the first one I ever read and remains one of my favorites. Again, I love the world-building aspect and how the main character slowly realizes how much his people have given up in exchange for their ‘perfect’ world. It’s a quick, tidy read with a great, ambiguous ending. Sadly, I don’t find its sequels to be nearly as good, and rather wish the author had stopped with the first.
4. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Just a great, FUNNY book packed with Pratchett’s dry wit and Gaiman’s storytelling prowess.
5. Perdido Street Station by China Miéville and its loosely linked sequel, The Scar. These fall into the ‘weird’ sci-fi genre and again, it’s all about the world-building here. From a dancing spider god to mosquito women, there’s always a new culture or species being introduced.
Aww, Wangerin is at my alma mater and I still remember when the theater dept did Book of the Dun Cow yon these many years ago. ❤
Good Omens is one of my all-time favourite books. A friend gave it to me in high school and my copy is just absolutely destroyed.
I had no idea The Book of the Dun Cow had a sequel. I’ll have to check that out. It’s such an odd book. I’ve never found it referenced by anyone, anywhere, before.
The 5 books I generally recommend are…
1. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
It’s a quiet story about love, loss, the bonds of family, women and a kitchen in contemporary Japan. I get this sense of quietness from Yoshimoto’s writing that I adore and became a fan of her works after.
2. The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill
The story of the Minotaur from the Labyrinth of ancient Crete now living in the American South, working as a line cook. I don’t know how to categorise this book (magic realism) but it’s not exactly a fantasy, a little odd book about loneliness and trying to find happiness and beautiful to read.
3. Christopher Fowler -Peculiar Crimes Unit Mysteries
This is actually a series of books centred around two elderly but brilliant yet totally opposite in manners-and-ways partner detectives, Bryant and May and how they scrounge England investigating bizarre murders, utilising regular and unorthodox methods. I heart them and their motley crew so!
4. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
I’m not sure how to describe this in case I give spoilers so I’m going to suggest a google to look at the description on Amazon?
5. Ex-Libris by Anne Fadiman
My non-fiction pick of the lot! Fadiman’s passion for books and reading come through in her humorous collection of essays and it’s a yearly re-read for me.
YES to Ex Libris! I recommended it to two friends of mine who had gotten married – a year later, their books are still living on different bookcases in different rooms (a year is too soon), but they both liked the book. (for those who haven’t read this, the first piece is on the travails of “marrying libraries” with your spouse.)
If meta-books are up your alley, I enjoyed [em]How to talk about books you haven’t read[/em], which presents an unusual theory of reading, and is pretty entertaining as well. I’d recommend it.
Sorry, I misremembered how to italicize. Embarrassing!
…It’s not the standard html either, is it? I recall someone made a similar or inverse error somewhat recently… I did check the FAQ page.
test/last ditch try
Oh I love Bryant and May! And I’m always curious to see what mischief Crippen the cat is causing as well.
GEEK LOVE!!!! Thank you for reminding me I need to buy my own copy of this. Read it several times years ago as a library copy, but forgot about it.
ANYTHING by Anne Fadiman is awesome, and I love the design of her books – I’ll add `The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down’ to the book recs.
Ooh! Ooh! I love these posts. OK – my five are:
1. Octavia Butler. Each time I reread one of her novels it swallows me whole. She’s probably the most famous Black woman to write SF/Fantasy, and won a bajillion prizes including the Hugo/Nebula kind of stuff and the MacArthur genius grant. Her work deals with time travel, race, gender/sex/sexuality, aliens, what makes humans human, disease, ESP, and post-apocalyptic Afrofuturism. She influenced so many authors writing today. I’d pretty much start chronologically with her first novel, Kindred, and go from there. (She also wrote her last novel, Fledgling, when she was reading vampire books while writer’s-blocked on another novel and thought, “I could write a better one of these.” Did she ever.)
2. The Abhorsen Trilogy, by Garth Nix. He’s one of my favorite writers for his amazing world-building and fatastic female characters. The trilogy follows the story of the Abhorsens, a sort of magical defender role taken on by people with the ability to go into Death. They protect the Old Kingdom from encroaching evil with BELLS. There’s a very cranky cat, a very good dog, a schoolgirl-turned Abhorsen, and a librarian! So well-written.
3. Laurie Colwin. She wrote novels and essays (mostly about food), and her outlook on life was cosy, rich, generous, and brave. Her food essays are funny and comforting without being precious, and her novels are deeply endearing. She’s definitely an author whose voice makes you wish you could have her over for coffee – she LOVED coffee. She died pretty young of cancer so there’s not as much of her writing in existence as there should be – a handful of novels and two books of essays. Used bookstores generally have something.
4. Ursula Le Guin. Her huge body of work – novels, short stories, essays, poetry, and translations – span (mostly) SF/Fantasy, conventional fiction, historical fiction, just…everything. She thinks about social justice in ways that pervade her novels and create the possibility of new worlds and new/old ways of being. Her most famous books are probably the Earthsea series (more high-fantasy-esque, gets way more interesting with the inclusion of more women in the later books), but I’d personally recomment The Birthday of the World, The Telling, and Four Ways to Forgiveness.
5. I’m going to second or fifth or whatever the recommendation for N.K. Jemisin. Her worlds are so compelling and intricate and moving. I’m working on the third book of the Thousand Kingdoms trilogy – SO good.
And just want to add that almost all of Butler’s work needs trigger warnings of various kinds, particularly around racial and sexual violence. Jemisin’s and Le Guin’s also, to a lesser degree. For specific books I would be happy to elaborate.
John Irving – The Cider House Rules. Ostensibly about an obstetrician in pre-Roe v. wade days who runs an orphanage and performs abortions to women in need, and an orphan who can’t quite manage to leave the nest. Beautiful characters, a nuanced study of morality, and a touch of the absurd that’s found in all of Irving’s novels.
Ben Aaronovitch – Rivers of London, Moon Over Soho and Whispers Underground. Magic exists, and coppers must deal with it! Terrific fun with a POC protagonist, and a delight for any Anglophile.
Anne Marie MacDonald – Fall on Your Knees. TW: contains scenes of sexual abuse. Not a light-hearted read (it was once an Oprah book), but it’s a captivating read about a troubled family in Canada’s east coast. Stunning prose and use of POV and tense shifts. Have Kleenex!
Donna Tartt – The Secret History. An inverted mystery revolving around a group of tight-knit college students. It hits some of the same pleasure centres as V.C. Andrews did in my youth.
Margaret Atwood – Alias Grace. Based on a true 19th-century crime, in which two servants were convicted of a double murder. Atwood creates a fictional doctor to interact with the female criminal, and the narrative shifts between both points of view. It’s a fascinating psychological study.
I listened to a fabulously narrated audio book version of The Secret History, and it was fantastic and spellbinding.
Ooh, I’ll have to check that out, thank you!
Ben Aaronovitch! I love those books so much. I have the third waiting for me from the library.
And Fall on Your Knees is one of the best but most devastating books I’ve ever read. Highly recommended, but definitely not for everyone.
After seeing those two titles as I was skimming past, I slowed down to read the rest of the post looking for new things, but I’ve read and enjoyed everything you mentioned. 🙂
Slide the Corner, Fleur Beale
New Zealand young adult author, and I really recommend all her books. Her characters are lovely, and tackle issues ranging from “I can’t make friends in my new town” to “we’re on a reality tv show on a remote island and oh look my family is falling apart” to “I don’t want to drink but my friends are pressuring me to” to dyslexia with humour and great story telling.
One thing I really enjoy about her books as an older (well, 29-year-old) reader is that the adults are fully fleshed out characters. They’re not just obstacles for the I-know-better teenagers to overcome – they often DO provide a stumbling block in the narrative, but they have reasons and some of the parent/child relationships in her novels are fantastic. (There’s also one mother with narcissistic personality disorder. That one…doesn’t go well.)
The reason that I in particular recommend Slide the Corner is that it is about a young man who, unlike his academic family, love cars. He takes up racing rally cars, and is really good at it. Now, I am not now nor have I ever been a teenage boy. I have always been the academic kid. I have no interest in cars. There is no reason why I should relate to this character, and yet I LOVE THIS BOOK. I’ve re-read it so many times, and have no hesitation to recommend it to anyone else.
Slide the Corner is. I think, my very favourite New Zealand book. Like you, there’s nothing I should relate to in it and yet … and yet I loved it. I love the characters and the connections and, yes, even the racing.
Other NZ favourites – The Halfmen of O series by Maurice Gee (fantasy) and The Denniston Rose by Jenny Pattrick (tragic realism)
Kate Bornstein, Hello Cruel World. It’s non-fiction, directed mainly at teenagers, a collection of activities to try as an alternative to suicide. Written by a trans* ex-Scientologist kinkster whose number one (and only) rule is “don’t be mean.” I have bought so many copies of this to give away, and I still reread my copy.
Adam Rex, The True Meaning of Smekday. Middle-grade science fiction novel about a 12-year-old biracial girl named Gratuity (nicknamed Tip) going on a road trip with her cat and an alien named JLo after the same aliens who kidnapped her mother are colonising Earth.
Susan Palwick, Flying in Place. Fantasy novel. The protagonist is a young girl whose father has just started sexually abusing her. Then her dead sister’s ghost starts visiting her. When I read the Cap’s description on this blog about the small quiet room you can find for yourself after escaping an abusive situation, I thought of this book and the life the main character builds for herself.
Pamela Dean, Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary. Fantasy novel, could be read as adult or young adult. Gentian, a bright young future astronomer meets the Darth Vader Boyfriend, who in this case is actually the devil, and loses track of her priorities, including her astronomy, her cat, her schoolwork, and her best friend.
Tom Stoppard, Arcadia. It’s about entropy and grief and landscaping and unsolved historical mysteries and unsolved mathematical mysteries. Here, I’ll give you the first line: “Septimus, what is carnal embrace?”
Totally second TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY. It is laugh-out-loud hilarious. And they are making an animated movie of it! So read it and be one of the people who was into it before it was cool.
Thirded. Adam Rex is awesometastic. I read his picture books aloud to my 8th grade English classes every year and they love him. Smekday, Fat Vampire, and Cold Cereal (about a cereal killer, ba-dum-bump) are all wonderful, but the Frankenstein picture books really do take the cake.
Seriously, it’s like this man knows my sense of humor better than I do.
I love TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY. It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious. I hear they are making an animated movie version! So if you read it now you can be one of the people who was into it before it was cool.
All of my love forever for Stoppard.
YES to Arcadia. I taught it to my 10th grade honors English students and definitely cried in class when we talked about the last scene. SO GOOD.
Seconding FLYING IN PLACE, one of my all-time favorites. In addition to HELLO CRUEL WORLD, I also rec Kate Bornstein’s memoir, A QUEER AND PLEASANT DANGER–I was on the edge of my seat despite knowing what to expect at the end.
Recent favourites that I didn’t spot mentioned:
The Gone Away World – nick harkaway (I put this up next to The Lies of Locke Lamora)
The Night Circus – Erin Morgensten
The Emperor’s Edge – Lindsay Buroker (adventure stories for guys and girls!)
Some Kind of Fairy Tale – Graham Joyce (I’m trying to read the world fantasy awards shortlist)
Cold Magic – Kate Elliot
Ooh, Cold Magic! I really liked it.
Decloaking to recommend the Mapp and Lucia books by EF Benson (“Mapp and Lucia” is best to start with, though there are others before and after – six by him, as well as other more middling ones by other authors later). Deliciously sharp social comedies of the 1920s and 30s (at their time of writing beloved by Noel Coward among others), just a pleasure to read and reread.
Oh yes!! I got “Mapp and Lucia” for Christmas last year, and was totally charmed. But at first I was thinking “what the fuck am I reading???” so definitely give it a few chapters if you don’t get into it right away.
Atomic Robo: comic books/graphic novels by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegner. They follow the adventures of a team of Action Scientists lead by Atomic Robo, a robot invented by Nicolai Tesla, who travel the world defeating enemies, saving stuff, and generally having big, blow-uppy fun. I especially like volume 7, Atomic Robo and the Flying She-Devils of the Pacific, but all the books are good.
Atomic Robo might just be the best comic I’ve ever read. You can pick up any given trade in any order and get a fantastic, fun, smart story.
If you like that, you might also like Perhapanauts. A bunch of various mythical-ish creatures as part of a government team to keep an eye on supernatural things. Todd Dezago of Young Justice (old one) fame.
I just moved and was ordered to select the books I would like to definitely rescue from donation in case my parents decide to downsize, so I also have a very small collection of near and dear:
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston: It’s non-fiction about Ebola, but really about so much more. It’s narrative storytelling, and it’s the reason why I became an epidemiologist. I like all of Richard Preston’s books (though I would not suggest reading them all in a row because he has some things in his writing style that make me twitch). He has a novel The Cobra Event, that is also quite good.
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson: Again non-fiction about John Snow and the London cholera epidemic but SO MUCH MORE. This is the story of modern epidemiology, so yes there’s an emotional attachment, but it is very good.
Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien: I know most people have read it, and it seems to be a love or hate. If you haven’t or haven’t been able to get into it, let me share how I deal with it: I watched the first movie first. I TRIED SO HARD to read it, but I couldn’t get into it. To that end, Tolkien technically wrote it as 1 book broken into 6 “books.” I read it end to end once, and since then have skipped all but the last chapter of “Book” 1, all of “Book” 4, and the Frodo&Sam bits of 5&6. No shame. I also really couldn’t make it through any of Tolkien’s other books.
The works of Anthony Bourdain: I like food writing. He writes in his own voice, so if you don’t like his shows, you won’t like his books. It’s particularly interesting to see how his writing changed as he got older.
aaaah because I have one more I want to plug what I’ve been reading. My dad gave it to me.
It’s called Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi. In this sense “Christ Stopped” is a society ends in Eboli and the world is a throwback further south thing. Non-fiction – The author was a Roman, anti-Mussolini rabble rouser and was too popular to assassinate. He was imprisoned and sent to live in a small, rural town in southern Italy. It’s essentially an ethnography of this town through his educated, Roman-and-stereotypically-anti-Southern lens. It’s REALLY interesting.
The Canon – Natalie Angier. A science writer asks leading scientists in various fields about the big concepts in their area that they wish everyone understood, and she writes it up in some of the best nonfiction prose I’ve ever read.
The City and the City – China Mieville. Totally fantastic detective novel about a murder, but really it’s about two overlapping cities and the relationship between them. Have long discussions with people about whether this is a fantasy novel or just a geographically normal place with weird social structures.
Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. An comedy about the end of the world by two excellent fantasy writers. (I have a soft spot for apocalypse-related humor.) I was a huge Discworld fan when I read this, and it ended up being a gateway drug to Neil Gaiman’s writing, which I also love.
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott. The subtitle is “Advice on Writing and Life”. I’m not a writer, but I enjoyed the hell out of this book. It’s funny and irreverent, but tender. It’s optimistic, but it’s honest about the uglier parts of our psyches, like jealousy. And even though I came across this book as a young, brash atheist, I didn’t mind the religious bits somehow. YMMV.
1. Matt Ruff: Set this House in Order. A Romance of Souls
Andy’s soul has broken into many pieces, so he has constructed a house on his inside in a desparate attempt to gain some order and some peace between more than a hundred souls, while at the same time trying to get to terms with the outside life.
The book is about a person with an extreme form of multiple personality disorder, but I think everyone who has struggled with mental illness will find some deep truths reflected in the work.
2. Markus Zusak: The Book Thief
What does it mean to be a human in the worst of times? That is the main question of this book that tells the story of a young girl who grows up with foster parents in Nazi Germany, and who befriends a jewish fist-fighter hiding from the Nazis.
3. Arundathi Roy: The God of Small Things
This one comes with a trigger warning. Though it is one of my absolute favourite books, I have not managed to read it a second time, because the first time around I cried so much. A deeply personal and truly poetic view into the lives of an Indian family and how they are influenced by politics, the norms of society and social injustice.
4. Michael Ende: Momo
A children’s book, magic and inspiring, about the meaning of time.
5. Alan Bradley: All books of the Flavia de Luce Mystery series – An eleven-year old precocious girl with a fondness for poisons and an inquisitive mind, she is strangely attracted to corpses which seem to turn up in front of her regularly. But at the same time she is a child who has grown up without a mother, suffering from her father’s withdrawn behaviour, her sister’s cruel schemes and has yet to figure out where she belongs
YES Flavia de Luce!
The description of Momo on Amazon reminded me of The Phantom Tollbooth, another all-time favorite of mine.
Flavia is awesome.
I loved Momo when I was younger. Same author as Neverending Story, if you’ve read it or seen the film.
Guardian of the Dead, the Shattering and When We Wake by KAREN HEALEY. She is a wonderful New Zealand author writing kickass cool stories set in New Zealand (ok, When We Wake is set in Australia), with main characters drawn from a variety of backgrounds and facing a variety of problems. So awesome!
The Magician’s Guild trilogy by TRUDI CANAVAN. I’m a sucker for wizard goes to school stories, and I think this is one of the best I’ve read. There’s a LOT there about class and power, and there are a few spinoff books set in the same world. Trudi Canavan also wrote the Age of Five trilogy, which I wasn’t super keen on but others may like.
The Sara Linton series by KARIN SLAUGHTER. Warning, these are pretty triggering. Lots of rape, violence etc. But if that doesn’t bother you and you like crime novels, these are awesome. The series follows Sara Linton, paediatrician and coroner, through her life in a small town outside Atlanta. Great aeroplane novels, about five million in the series (or maybe like, 8?), not what you would describe as cheerful or light, but the characters are amazing.
The Women of the Otherworld series by KELLEY ARMSTRONG. These do get less excellent as they go on, but the first five are solid gold, and even the not so good ones are solidly enjoyable. Urban fantasy type books. The first one is about Elena, a woman who was bitten and turned into a werewolf ten years ago, and her struggle to reconcile herself to the outsider life etc but WAY more awesome than I make it sound. Kickass women,fun plots, witty banter etc.
And on a slightly more highbrow note, The Dispossessed by URSULA K LE GUIN. Why anarchy? Why not? This is an unabashedly political novel and I swear, half the reason I did so well on my systems of government paper at university. It’s about an anarchic society that actually makes sense! Le Guin is an amazing writer and you could read anything she wrote and love it, but the Dispossessed is my favourite.
I loved The Dispossessed. I loved it because she wrote a society in line with her own political values and then showed that in a lot of ways that society would really suck – partly because that single society would still exist within the wider world/universe, but also very much because human beings.
When I think of that novel, I think of the baby crying for her mother, and said mother saying “Don’t be silly, you know you’re not allowed to own things!”
I have so many favorite books, but these are ones I find myself recommending over and over:
THE KING MUST DIE (1958), by MARY RENAULT. The King Must Die is a retelling of the myth of Theseus, and I think it’s an absolute masterpiece. (Also, FIRE FROM HEAVEN (1969), about the youth of Alexander the Great. She wrote a non-fiction biography of Alexander, and her novels about him and his lifetime are really historically accurate in addition to being an absolute pleasure to read.) Bonus because she wrote in the 50s and 60s, but had lots of queer characters in her novels, perhaps because she was queer herself.
THE GATE TO WOMEN’S COUNTRY (1988), by SHERI TEPPER. I love dystopian science fiction, and she always throws in interesting gender issues, as kind of a bonus. If you want to get into more gender issues and science fiction, I also enjoyed SIX MOON DANCE (1998), and all her books are great fun, I think; but The Gate To Women’s Country is by far my favorite. Everyone I’ve recommended this book to loves it and recommends it to others, which is always nice.
SWEET THURSDAY (1954), by JOHN STEINBECK. It’s the sequal to Cannery Row, but very different in style although it continues the story of many of the same characters. I read Sweet Thursday first and was then disappointed when I read Cannery Row. Anyway, for some reason I keep coming back to this book; it contains so much, is written so beautifully, and is just a perfectly complete story. Also contains one of my favorite characters in all of fiction, hence my “Hazel” nom de plume.
I, CLAUDIUS (1934), by ROBERT GRAVES. Robert Graves worked as a translator in Egypt, translating the works of Suetonius; so if you read this book you’ll be amazed by how much of it is direct quotes from the actual historians of the day. It’s a wonderfully entertaining book and a must for anyone interested in ancient Rome. One of the best historical fiction books I have ever read.
THE DAUGHTER OF TIME (1951), by JOSEPHINE TEY. I adore the works of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Rex Stout, so it seems odd to be recommending someone else; but this is a unique mystery. Tey’s Detective Grant has broken his leg and is stuck in the hospital, and someone gives him a portrait which turns out to be of Richard III, notorious for killing the princes in the tower. Detective Grant is intrigued by the portrait and begins to investigate; and what follows is a brilliant work which explores how history is written (and by whom). It’s the best book about historical research that I have ever read.
And one non-fiction, because I can’t resist
THE GUNS OF AUGUST (1962), by BARBARA TUCHMAN. It’s wonderfully funny and tragic, about the first month of World War I. She’s a brilliant writer. Also recommended, ZIMMERMAN TELEGRAM. And everything else she ever wrote, although these two are my favorites because her humorous narration comes through the strongest. (You can tell I love history, can’t you?)
Oh how I love Barbara Tuchman.
Seconding The Daughter of Time – also anything by Josephine Tey. She is absolutely brilliant.
Oh gosh – I. Claudius. That’s been one of my very favourite books since I was 13. I can’t count how many times I’ve read it and Claudius the God and I even find myself subconsciously reflecting its phrasings in my own writing. That’s another one I need to pull out and read again.
Since we’ve been asked to do trigger warnings, I will note that The Gate To Women’s Country has some rape/abuse stuff that can be difficult to read. And I, Claudius has some wildly wicked characters, who often do terrible things (which run the gamut from murder to incest to suicide to rape). Sweet Thursday features a brothel, treated in the most tender respectful charming way possible.
I love Tepper, but she definitely requires some warnings, along with the rape/abuse stuff, which is in several of her books, (and I think was a bit gratuitous in one of her later novels), she is really more ableist that I want to admit, including in three of my favourites, The Family Tree, Beauty, and Gibbon’s Rise and Fall.
1)Anything by Nnedi Okorafor, especially Who Fears Death, which is about a stubborn, hot-tempered biracial young woman named Onyesonwu growing up to become a badass sorceress on a mission in post-apocalytic Sudan. (However, it is with this caveat: there is a non-graphic rape scene at the beginning; and Onyesonwu is sexually harassed at one point. There’s also a scene where she undergoes FGM to fit in better with the other girls of her village.) Then there’s her other post-apocalyptic Africa series, which has parallel worlds and superpowered people, and Akata Witch, about a young albino girl who has to save the world with several of her magically-gifted peers.
2) Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant. This includes the October Daye series (half-elvish private detective lady getting up to crime-solving hijinks with her found family and a stupid sexy cat king), the Velveteen Versus series (toy-animating superheroine goes up against an evil superhero-constructing corporation with her found family), and the InCryptid series (a young aspiring ballroom dancer/cryptid protector/cryptid hunter and her stupid sexy ancestral enemy and her telepathic cousin solve cryptid-related mysteries in New York), and the Newsflesh series (Georgia Mason and her brother Shaun Mason and their blogging crew go in search of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in a zombie-ridden world).
3) Tamora Pierce! My favorite series is the Circle of Magic series and its follow-ups (Daja Kisubo is my forever girl, okay), but the Tortall books are great too. Badass ladies, badass ladies everywhere, as well as a departure from your usual pasty-white high fantasy.
4) NK Jemisin. First there’s the Inheritance Trilogy, featuring a world with real and present gods and the aftereffects of divinely backed imperialism, and then there’s the Dreamblood Duology, featuring NINJA PRIESTS and POLITICS EVERYWHERE. (Please be aware that the second book contains mention of parental incest.) Also full of WoC!
5) Sunshine by Robin McKinley. In a world full of vampires and weres and people who can make coffee hot all the time, baker extraordinaire Sunshine Seddon is kidnapped by vampires and escapes. With a different, nicer vampire who was also their captive in tow. In the middle of the day. And then proceeds to spend basically the entire book freaking out (about the master vampire she pissed off, about her particular vampire whose life she saved by making him sunproof, about the possibility of snapping and going on a murder spree because of bad-magic genes, about how weirdly hot her vampire is) yet saving the entire day even while being stressed and terrified and surrounded by people who could break her arms without trying. Also, weird vampire dates.
Oh yay Sunshine! Ought to be a series.
McKinley does have a sequel to Sunshine planned.
Hey! Fist bump to the only other person I’ve met (besides Tammy herself) who prefers Circle of Magic. Though I’m a Tris girl more than a Daja girl.
Oh, hey, yours is the first post I’ve seen here where I’ve already read – and am already a fan! – of every suggestion. I second every recommendation! I’ve just discovered Okorafor and Jemisin this year but I’ve been reading Pierce and McKinley for about 20 years. Daja is definitely my favorite in the Circle books, too (I studied metalsmithing, of course she is!).
Warning: I have a fascination with dystopias and main characters with issues.
1) Villains By Necessity by Eve Forward. The good guys ain’t so good, and the bad guys are bad but they’ve got their reasons. There’s also an apparently-haunted suit of armor named Blackmail.
2) Madness Season by C. S. Friedman. It gives you a look at several alien cultures, partly from the inside.
3) Year of the Warrior by Lars Walker. The main character is a very fallible, and therefore all the more human, priest who is captured and sold to Vikings (who also turn out to be rather human).
4) Heroes Die by Matthew Stover. VERY dystopian, and the main character is a thuggish antihero at best (If this was a movie, Riddick would be saying, “What a dick”), but he’ll do anything to save his estranged wife.
I’m drawing a blank on a fifth recommendation, so I’ll settle for seconding anything by Lois Bujold, anything by Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant, anything by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, and if you’re in the mood for snarky fluff the Nightside series by Simon Green.
Villains by Necessity is on my list of all time favorites. At one time, Eve mentioned on her livejournal that there was a possibility of reprinting, but I don’t know that it ever happened.
And now I have to see if I actually did get that copy off Amazon or if I imagined it. Definitely want to read it again!
OMG yesss Villains By Necessity! Hard to get ahold of, though, since it’s not in print anymore… my copy is one of my favorite possessions.
Best book I’ve read lately is “let’s Pretend This Never Happened”, the authors site is good to, bloggess.com. This book literally made me laugh out loud.
Non-fiction recommendation: Brillat-Savarin’s Physiology of Taste. Some of it’s more amusing than enlightening, some of it is enlightening, but all of it is entertaining. Watch him pity the ages past that had to live without chocolate! Hear the story of the asparagus! Participate in the wear-a-girdle-and-walk-occasionally diet! Join his petition to remove gluttony from the list of seven deadly sins!
C.S. Lewis. All of Narnia, the first two books of the Space Trilogy. ONLY the first two books. I loved Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra and ended up throwing That Hideous Strength against a wall.
Ursula Vernon’s Digger for graphic novel lovers. It’s about a phlegmatic wombat and her reluctant involvement with the gods. You can get it from Sofawolf in six volumes or wait until the omnibus, which is happening, the Kickstarter was crazy successful.
Jane Eyre for the classics. Don’t read it for the romance, read it for Jane and only for Jane – one of my single favorite characters of all time. I reread Jane Eyre about once every six months.
Bujold, Bujold, Bujold. Cannot stress this enough. Are you reading Bujold yet? Get off the internet and start!
I cannot believe this is the first I heard of a Digger kickstarter! Or in other words SECONDING RECOMMENDATION SO HARD.
You missed the opportunity to own a foam “Remember Tunnel 27” pickax.
… also to preorder an omnibus, which would also be cool.
I wish I could get hold of Digger. It sounds like a perfect present for someone I know. But at the moment a single volume including shipping runs to more than $50.
Yay warnings. I felt awkward about this but some of mine need them. Brillat-Savarin I’m tagging for body-shaming in an antiquated and usually narmy way. C.S. Lewis gets the Dude Has Issues With Grown Women tag. Jane Eyre gets the wince-inducing old-timey British imperialist racism tag. Digger gets the…I don’t know…ritual cannibalism tag?
Bujold gets the awesome tag.
Everyone everywhere should read Jo Walton’s Among Others. I mean that. Disabled heroine, magical realism and an oh-so-realistic portrayal of the aftermath of leaving an abusive family.
If you want nice fantasy where you know everything will turn out all right in the end (somehow) then read Diana Wynne Jones (she wrote Howl’s Moving Castle, the Chrestomanci series and a great many other books) or E Nesbitt’s trilogy Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Story of the Amulet – all available on Project Gutenburg and full of magic, time travel, strange creatures and stranger plots.
Roald Dahl. Everything and anything he wrote, both his short stories for adults and his books for children. Even if you already read some as a child, do go back and read them again – there’s stuff you missed and messages you didn’t know you were absorbing that you’ll be able to see now.
And there’s so much more I would always, always suggest but I have only one creator slot left so it has to be… Gregory Maguire. He wrote the Wicked series, which is the Land of Oz written for adults, it’s deep and rich and dark and subversive. I also LOVE his children’s novel “What-the-dickens!” which is sort of about tooth fairies and sort-of about the power of storytelling. Go read his work, you won’t be disappointed.
So hard to pick but if you like historical fiction and want to sink into a reading marathon, try the Morland Dynasty series by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. There are over 30 books in the series (!) and a new one is coming out this month. If you like English history you’ll enjoy these. It starts with The Founding but I started near the end and then went back to the beginning. Libraries have some, many are on ebook, and you can get some good deals on them on eBay.
Because I am visually impaired, I no longer own many print books. This is going to make moving much easier! But there is SO MUCH on my Nook . . . .
Always Coming Home, Ursula K. LeGuin. This book provokes strong reactions, as it resembles an anthropologist’s field journal more than anything else: there’s one bit of narrative structure, but only about a novella’s worth. I adore it, my son the anthropologist loves it, other people have handed it back to me with “What was the point of that?” I will always own a print copy of this.
A bit more LeGuin: her translation of Angélica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial. Magical realism in a non-European setting, with plenty of fully-formed female characters who have their own needs and agendas.
I’m the fourth or fifth person to suggest Rosemary Kirstein’s Steerswoman series, but — women going out and having adventures, not to reclaim a throne or vanquish an ancient evil, but to learn more about the world? How can you not?
Martha Wells’ Books of the Raksura. Yes, it’s Stargate: Atlantis fic with the serial numbers filed off. Go read them anyway, for the worldbuilding and the gender parity and the guy who just wants to find a home and people there who’ll love him.
Everyday Zen, Charlotte Joko Beck. An introduction to Soto Zen Buddhism that’s remarkably low on woo and recognizes that not everyone can take off to a zendo for a month — but doesn’t let you off the hook for practicing diligently in the time and space you do have.
I think we must be kindred spirits, because Always Coming Home is my favorite as well. I have a very tattered paperback copy that I have to keep taping back together. I also have a copy of her translation of the Tao Te Ching, which has become my favorite translation. I love her poetry. Anyway, I could gush about Le Guin all day, but I’m going to cut it short.
For non-fiction, the recently published Smile at Strangers by Susan Schorn is fantastic. A kick-ass and thoughtful feminist look at self-defense, gender and society. And it’s funny!
Okay, others have mentioned some of my suggestions (Terry Pratchett is glory and joy!), and a lot of what I tend to read for pleasure is manga, and maybe there’s people here who might like recommendations, so…
1) Saiyuki Gaiden, by Kazuya Minekura (side story of her main work, Gensoumaden Saiyuki, and its continuations Saiyuki Reload and Saiyuki Reload: Blast). Fantasy/action/tragedy. The art takes a major level in badass in volume 2, due to a ten-year hiatus. It’s a major emotional sucker-punch, and extremely well done, and the relationships between the main characters are amazing. Just be warned that almost everyone dies. No really. They’re the preincarnations of the Gensoumaden Saiyuki cast, so expect it. This is not a spoiler, because it’s basically the premise of the story. Trigger warnings for violence and child abuse (and extended huge warnings for child abuse in Saiyuki if you decide to go on to it; Gojyo’s backstory still breaks my heart).
2) Fullmetal Alchemist, by Hiromu Arakawa. Science fiction/fantasy/action. Solid plot and action, characters that you’ll remember, and a fairly intriguing study of pragmatism, patriotism, eugenics and prejudice. Trigger warnings for pretty much every kind of awfulness, though sexual awfulness is notably absent, and contains a wide range of incredibly badass women.
3) Sailing to Sarantium/Lord of Emperors, by Guy Gavriel Kay. Semi-historical fantasy/drama focusing on an alternate-universe Justinian and Theodora, again notable for amazing emotional depth and characterisation. It’s pretty difficult to describe plotwise without giving away too much for people who aren’t familiar with the history, and those who are know how this goes anyway 😛
4) House of Leaves, by Danielewski. It’s a book about a book about a movie that never existed about a house that never existed – or maybe it did. Sort of. It’s excellent, trippy and fun to read, and contains a lot of Bilingual Bonus for people who understand French or German, though it’s not necessary to do so.
Ohhh, a big YES on those Kay books. I like pretty much all of his thinly-veiled historical fantasy books but those two were real high points for me. I think The Lions of Al-Rassan is my second-favorite of those.
Most of what I can think of has already been covered, but the most recent book I read was “A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent”, and I devoured it in a day. Written in memoir style supposedly by an old woman who in her youth defied conventions of the time to follow her passion for science, and became an adventurer and famous natural historian studying dragons. What’s not to love?
Dam, this is an expensive thread…
so, in revenge…
1) The Gameplayers of Zan -sublime, written in 1970’s and it took me 20 years to find out if author m. a. foster was a man or woman, because you cannot tell. Recently republished in ‘The book of the Ler’. This is the best sf I have ever read,and in running for best book, full stop. Slowish start but sf in excelsis
2) Pavane by Keith Roberts – exquisite, alternate reality, sf Masterworks reprint
3) Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency/The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul – Douglas Adams – as in hitchhikers guide to the galaxy – hysterical
4) Saki – collected stories – wicked wicked funny, edwardian black humour – being too polite to mention your suspicion that a fellow guest is a werewolf…Sredni Vashtar is not a good one to start with though, it was therapy not humour
5)The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford – howlingly funny , and if you haven’t met the Mitfords, the bit about the father hunting the children with baying bloodhounds through the local village at night was completely true
There is a reason why classics are classics, it is nearly 50 years since I read Winnie the Pooh, but still everytime I cannot find something, ‘the more I look for it, the more it isn’t there’ (the House at Pooh Corner)
Huh. Sredni Vashtar is the only one of his I’ve read. It scared the living daylights out of me, but I thought it was very good.
The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny. I feel that every person I get to read this benefits my karma enormously. Then I get them to read Lord of Light, Zelazny’s best single volume work.
The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks. It’s how I met The Culture and rough consensus seems to support it as a strong entry point. I figure if they read this, then they’ll go get the rest on their own.
The Dragaera series by Steven Brust. So good in so many different ways.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. Much like The Player of Games, I figure if they get a taste, they’ll be back.
Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis. I have given more than one person a full run of this, that’s how strongly I feel about people getting to read it.
AMBER!!!!! ❤ My first real fandom and still loved so, so much.
I’m actually reading Lord of Light now (I read the Amber books years ago)! It’s pretty great so far to me, too– I think it might end up being my favorite of his works. I was thinking of checking out the Culture series sometime soon, but I’ve heard starting with Consider Phlebas is not the best idea. Would you recommend starting with The Player of Games and then skipping to the beginning, or is this one of those series that you can read in whatever order?
That’s the order I started with too, and I’d highly recommend it. The Player of Games is really wonderful, but when I went back to start at the beginning I got stuck on a really icky cannibalism scene in Consider Phlebas, so it might be a good idea to skip that one.
Thanks, I’ll make that my reading plan then. 🙂 Maybe I’ll give Consider Phlebas a try once I’ve read the others (that will probably take a while).
1. Christopher Brookmyre, Scottish crime novelist. All of his books are brilliant, but my favorite is The Sacred Art of Stealing due to its Dadist bank robbery featuring dancing clowns.
2. Libriomancer, by Jim C. Hines. Because the power to literally pull any object out of a book is all I covet in life.
3. Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin: the zombie book that made me cry.
4. Ready Player One, by Ernie Cline. Imagine Willy Wonka made love to Ms. PacMan in the backseat of a Delorean. The result is this book. A gamer love song to my geeky, child-of-the-80s heart.
5. Someone already mentioned the genius of Adam Rex, but not his very best work: Frankenstein Makes A Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes The Cake. Because everyone needs picture books in their lives and because the latter includes this Edgar Allan Poem:
Oh, Poe knows he should be working on the poet work he’s shirking,
Whilst the raven still is lurking on the bust above his door.
It’s just 7-Down that keeps our peep from getting any sleep:
“‘Crusading wife of former veep?’ I’m sure I’ve heard this one before!
But what the devil is a veep?” he weeps, as lo, the clock strikes four.
Quoth the raven, “Tipper Gore.”
And the artwork is wonderful. I love this man so much.
Seconding Ready Player One! So good. And Wil Wheaton’s reading of it is amazing if you like audiobooks.
I’m still reading through all the comments, but yes! to the Christopher Brookmyre recommendation. He’s got a very dry wit, and is a great story teller.
I’m cheating by loudly agreeing with previous recommendations! Particularly the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and Discworld by Terry Pratchett (Monstrous Regiment is my favorite, but I also like Mort)
Machine of Death is an anthology of short stories written by a ton of authors, known and unknown, all revolving around the same premise: a machine that takes a sample of your blood and then spits out a piece of paper with a short word or phrase describing how you will die. No dates or details, just a vague prediction that is always right. Every story in the anthology (and its sequel that just came out, This Is How You Die) takes a unique spin on the premise to varying degrees of morbidity. The entire Machine of Death is available for free online, and a few stories from This Is How You Die are also available, so it’s definitely worth checking out.
aaaaand I guess I’ll wrap this up with a few of my favorite classics: The Count of Monte Cristo, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and I, Robot (WAAAAY different from the movie)
Unspoken – Sarah Rees Brennan
Kami Glass, a plucky girl reporter, vows to discover the secrets of the mysterious Lynburn family that has finally returned to its gothic manor overlooking her hometown of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Jared, the imaginary friend she’s had since she was born, helps out.
A YA homage to the gothic genre with themes of boundaries and agency. It also has an excellent heroine, strong female friendships, and an author who likes to laugh at the pain of her readers. No, she literally does that on twitter. A lot.
Kushiel’s Legacy – Jacqueline Carey
Set in an alternate earth where Jesus’s magic son settled in France with a bunch of angels, this follows the epic story of a gods-touched prostitute heavily involved with political intrigue.
I almost feel like this one is a guilty pleasure but I love it SO MUCH. The writing is lush, I love all the characters, and I really want to live in Terre d’Ange okay. It also has MY FAVOURITE ROMANCE EVER. The first and second trilogies are the best (Kushiel’s Dart/Kushiel’s Chosen/Kushiel’s Avatar and Kushiel’s Scion/Kushiel’s Justice/Kushiel’s Mercy) and the third one I don’t like as much. Obviously there are strong sexual themes throughout, but I love it more for the political intrigue
Oh my god, I can’t believe I forgot about Jacqueline Carey! And not only the Kushiel’s Whatever series, but the amazing SANTA OLIVIA and its sequel, SAINTS ASTRAY.
Sort of dystopic story set in a former town, now military outpost, on the Texas/Mexico border, featuring a mixed race, part mutant girl who can’t feel fear. Boxing prizefights, gang wars, hot lesbian sex, poly triangle relationship involving a priest, a nun and a teacher, this book has it all.
Ooh, yeah, I love me some Kushiel books, but they are seriously epic (not a bad thing! just a thing!). Santa Olivia and Saints Astray have many of the things I love about the Kushiel books, but in a less time-consuming fashion and also they have Loup, who is probably my new favorite character by Jacqueline Carey.
Oh, I love the Kushiel’s Legacy series; if I ever pick up Kushiel’s Dart even for a minute I get swept away and have to read the whole series again.
Jacqueline Carey, FTW!
I love the Kushielverse so much I actually have a small briar rose tattoo, and I recommend those books so often I actually have 2 or 3 hard copies of each (1 hardcover + 1 or 2 paperbacks for lending) in addition to the e-book versions.
The Sundering duology (BANEWREAKER and GODSLAYER) is also brilliant, a Lord of the Rings type of tale written as an epic tragedy, where you get the perspective of both sides of the good vs evil conflict. Every time I finish them, I’m always “It can’t end like that, but it has to end like that, but it can’t, but it has to, but, but… Curse you, Jacqueline Carey; now I have all the feels!”
I had a great time reading the first book of the new Agent of Hel series, DARK CURRENTS, which is a murder mystery with a main character who is half human, half hell-spawn. I’m really looking forward to the release of the next book, AUTUMN BONES (due out in October).
1. Barbara Hambly, Dragonsbane (there is a series following those but I like the first one the best by far) and also Silent Tower / Silicon Mage. Both fantasy, both awesome. (And I acquired SM before ST and read the first sentence and kind of went “…okay, want to read this, but want first book too”)
2. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens.
3. Ben Aaranovich’s Rivers of London series, as has been mentioned, starting with Midnight Riot (US title, but I like RoL better as a title for the book)
1. Barbara Hambly, Dragonsbane (there is a series following those but I like the first one the best by far) and also Silent Tower / Silicon Mage. Both fantasy, both awesome. (And I acquired SM before ST and read the first sentence and kind of went “…okay, want to read this, but want first book too”)
2. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens.
3. Ben Aaranovich’s Rivers of London series, as has been mentioned, starting with Midnight Riot (US title, but I like RoL better as a title for the book)
4. Steven Brust’s Taltos novels. The later ones might not make as much sense without the earlier ones, but they are so awesome.
Oh hell yes Barbara Hambly! B&N had most of her fantasy back catalog available in electronic editions for a couple of bucks each in late November last year; after I stopped shrieking and running around the house with joy, I loaded up. And now John and Jenny and Ingold and Gil and Antryg and Joanna are right there on my bedside table.
I know I’ve recced Connie Willis here (though my favorite is To Say Nothing of the Dog), so I am just going to give myself credit there.
Excepting that, since it’s in the post, my mentions:
Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins — These are better written and more complex than The Hunger Games series (there are five books, and because they weren’t super popular, she didn’t have to rush the writing). They’re fantasy, not sci fi, and they’re geared a little younger, but they’re no less violent, and they focus on a lot of the same topics: families living in poverty who are very closeknit; the reality of the horror of war; what war does to your society; what it looks like to decide that going forward, you and your neighbors will solve your problems without killing each other, and how hard that really can be.
World War Z by Max Brooks — yes, zombies, but also mostly about geopolitics. I think about this book a lot — it’s, I think, a very realistic look at how different nations/societies would cope with a problem as unprecedented as zombies.
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde — I love the Thursday Next books too, but this is the one I reread the most. Set in a future where society has a very strict hierarchy based on what colors you’re able to see. Spoons are outlawed, giant swans are a real threat, lots of Jasper Fforde wackiness.
The Devil’s Teeth by Susan Casey — non-fiction about great white sharks, and the people who study them. It focuses on the scientists who study great white sharks in the Farallon Islands off San Francisco. I love sharks, and there is a lot of fascinating info about sharks, and about how little we know about them, and the story of the guys who study them is also really gripping.
Just want to say that my favorite is To Say Nothing of the Dog too. And anyone who liked that should make sure to read Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of The Dog), by Jerome K. Jerome. It’s hysterical.
Seconded on the Jerome rec! Some of the funniest writing I’ve ever read.
Thirded on Jerome K Jerome. His books may be old but they’re still as funny as the day they were published.
Shades of Grey! I stopped with the Thursday Next after a while, but Shades of Grey was brilliant and I thought the universe allowed the author all sorts of chances to be crazily creative.
1. As I said above, the Regeneration Trilogy. It’s about Dr Rivers, a hugely compassionate man, who treats soldiers for the PTSD in the First World War. It deals with the paradox of his caring treatment of the men and the fact that he is curing them to go back to the front line. It is about gender, and race, and love, and affection, and therapy, and war, and sex, and sexuality, and repression, and the love (of all kinds) between men, and the love between women, and authority and affection. Pat Barker sums it up as a novel which seeks to “humanise the experience of men by thinking of it in terms of what women do”. It is a brilliant series of novels. Despite writing over 11 thousand words about it I never once regretted choosing to do my dissertation on it.
2. Clair Tomliason’s biography of Charles Dickens. Respectful without being reverential, an amazing insight into a genius who was also a total bastard in lots of ways.
(Side note: this isn’t a book, but if you have any spare money to spend on entertainment by God spend it on Miriam Margolyes’ Dickens’ Women. It is beautiful, and full of insight, and compassionate and warm, and hilarious, and has some of the best acting I have ever witnessed (heard).)
3. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. Dark little versions of feminist fairy tales (written in the 70s, when that wasn’t so hackneyed). It will stick with you. (I must reread mine, if I can ignore my painful A-Level annotations).
4. Clockwork, by Phillip Pullman. The Dangers and Thrills of Clockwork on a cold winter’s night in Germany. A thriller for kids. A terrifying little fable with wit and wisdom that will give them the right kind of shivers.
5. Any audiobook read by Anton Lesser. Even if it is the yellow pages.
(Writing this list has made me aware of how white and anglo-centric my reading is. I need to rectify that and I’ve got the time. Does anyone have any good starting points?)
Dickens’ Women by the fabulous till the end of time Miriam Margolyes is a book too!!! And the show is on CD. (And I got to see the show a year or so ago – extraordinary!)
– Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson,
– The Inheritance Trilogy by NK Jemison,
– anything by Ursula K. Leguin,
– Moloka’i by Alan Brennert,
– The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan,
– The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck,
– Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman,
– The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch,
– Geisha by Liza Dalby (this is non-fiction) and The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby (this is historical fiction).
– The Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
– The Number One Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Gonna try for five different genres here…
Young Adult/Middle Grade: FLY BY NIGHT by Frances Hardinge. Most of what I read is YA/MG and this is still what I would recommend above all others. It’s about a brilliant, prickly 12-year-old girl who gets caught up in the politics of a city on the brink of war, the power of words, and the importance of thinking for yourself. It’s hilarious and twisty and gripping and beautiful.
Romance: HOT TARGET by Suzanne Brockmann. This is part of a series of romantic thrillers about Navy SEALs and other sexy law enforcement-types and the kickass ladies they fall for, and I really love the protagonists of this book, Navy SEAL Cosmo and movie producer Jane, but this is my favorite of the series entirely because of the subplot featuring Jane’s alcoholic, closeted brother Robin and dashing, out FBI agent Jules. Their story continues in FORCE OF NATURE and ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT (though the het plots of both of those are pretty meh), and Jules is in a bunch of other books in the TROUBLESHOOTERS series. If you read a bunch of Brockmann’s books in one go some of her problematic themes about babies and pregnancy can be a little overwhelming, but her books are mostly fun and full of action and attractive people doing attractive things to each other, and Jules and Robin are the actual best.
Comics: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SCROOGE MCDUCK by Don Rosa. Scrooge is one of the greatest characters in pop culture, with a rich history that’s been mostly forgotten in the states, and this meticulously-researched masterpiece tells the story of how he went from a poor shoeshine boy in Glasgow to the richest duck in the world. It’s hilarious and heartbreaking and absolutely crammed with historical minutiae. (Caveat: Scrooge is a super imperialistic character and though the racism of the 1950s comics THE LIFE AND TIMES is based on was dialed down a lot for this volume, it’s still present.) I also recommend the companion volume.
Nonfiction: THE BIG OYSTER by Mark Kurlansky. A history of the oyster industry in New York City, and how overharvesting and pollution destroyed an incredible natural resource. I know a book about oysters doesn’t sound that interesting, but trust me, it’s absolutely fascinating.
Humor: Anything by P.G. Wodehouse. You’re welcome.
So funny that the Captain and so many commenters are recommending the Vorkosigan saga by Bujold (and her other books), because I only just recently received that recommendation from a friend and had never heard of them before, and now I’m halfway through the series. They are really good, and it is also worth it to go back to the 200-years-earlier prequel novella Falling Free, which was excellent. I have found them to be excellent sci fi candy escapism, at a time when I have really needed to escape!
And same with Tana French–her books were recommended to me last year, and I agree that they are excellent. It’s like The Secret History turned up a notch. They’re so emotionally affecting that after The Likeness I had to take a break for four months before I picked up her other two books! And I’ve loved all four.
I also also second the Time-Traveler’s Wife recommendation from other commenters. It’s an old favorite of mine, and a really good, well-written book. I really like well-crafted worlds, and Niffenegger creates a believable and beautiful world around her time-traveling character.
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem is also one of my top all-time favorite books. It was recommended to me by Sweet Machine, actually, and it took me a little while to track down a copy but was worth the effort. It’s mostly a murder mystery, narrated in first person by a character with Tourette’s, and really well crafted and constructed. The narration is incredibly well done.
No one has mentioned Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell yet, by Susanna Clarke. It tells the story of the gentleman magicians of Britain, and is written in an intricately crafted Victorian style (complete with footnotes and citations). It’s detailed and elaborate and understatedly hilarious, and one of the only books I have read multiple times. It’s also not easy to read a thousand-page victorian novel, so it’s not for everyone, but if you can push through 100 pages before giving up you probably won’t want to put it down and will be well rewarded. It has sat at the top of my personal list for almost a decade. I read it when I need comfort. (Hm, maybe it’s time for another read!)
It looks like there are a lot of more traditional fantasy readers among the commenters, too, so I’ll throw in my $0.02 on that, though I am not as up on it as I used to be. That said, for new books, I did really enjoy The Golem and the Jinni–it was a fun, entertaining, quick read that was nicely put together. I really liked it!
For older series, I have long been a fan of C.S. Friedman, who wrote the Coldfire Trilogy and more recently the Magister Trilogy, and also a couple sci-fi novels. I like her books because she develops really unusual, creative worlds with very nontraditional takes on magic and sorcery–what they are, how they work, what they do to people. The Coldfire Trilogy also includes possibly my favorite villain of all time as a central character (the Hunter), and I really appreciate a good villain, especially in fantasy novels. I liked the Magister books slightly less because they lacked a Hunter, but they were still very creative, fascinating books, and I liked where she went with the story.
I have also followed Robin Hobb’s books since she started writing, and with a few exceptions (the Soldier Son Trilogy, which is not associated with the rest of her books–different universe–and I didn’t get as into), they are some of the best fantasy series I’ve read, with some of the most unique worldbuilding. She produced a trilogy of linked trilogies, followed more recently by a series of “chronicles” books (which are less strong than the trilogies, I think, but I still enjoyed them a lot). What I at first thought was a disappointing end to the first trilogy (it seemed really tidy and pat at the time) turned out to be connected to a much deeper worldbuilding and story crafting scheme, revealed over the course of the two subsequent trilogies. Like Friedman, I like Hobb because she builds worlds and fantasy stories that deviate from traditional epic fantasy, which gets tiresome once you’ve read enough of it. Hobb’s books do have some traditional palace intrigue plots, and some questing (though not in a very traditional sense–they just have to go places sometimes), but although there are 9 books in the original set and 4 or 5 more since, it doesn’t feel like a neverending moneymaking formula à la Eddings or Jordan. It’s always going someplace new and the characters evolve and develop.
ROBIN HOBB FOREVER
Love love love Farseers/Liveship/Tawny Man trilogies. They’re the kind of stories I find myself thinking about years later.
I second Jonathan Strange. It is long, but I find it goes quite quickly. It’s the best of all mashups of Jane Austen and fantasy.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is fabulous. The benefit of its being staggeringly long is that I sometimes finish re-reading and have a moment of discombobulation where it feels as though her version of history is real (there are citations!).
Oh, totally. If you want a thoroughly engrossing alternate world (and can handle the old timey style), I think it is the absolute best for being completely transported away.
omgwtfbbq, HOBB!!! i really have to read the rest of her books! still have the liveship trilogy to look forward to.
when i was in my great Fantasy Consumption Phase i was a bit put off by the swedish translation of the first books i read. or maybe i just didnt have very good taste.
I did really enjoy her Soldier Son trilogy, she does world-building masterfully in my opinion. The world naturally expands and looking back after having finished the last book everything fits perfectly together.
Oh, you should definitely look back. I think the conclusion of the Farseer trilogy feels like the weakest part as you’re reading, so it might not have been just the translation you read. But it all comes together and makes a lot of sense later, and like the other commenters have said, I think her worldbuilding is close to unequalled. The Liveship and Tawny Man books are even better than the assassin books.
I didn’t NOT like Soldier Son–just my expectations were so high after the end of the Tawny Man trilogy that I didn’t love it as much. But it was nicely done and I did like reading it!
I’ve been meaning to try Robin Hobb for awhile, but haven’t read anything of hers. Do you guys have any suggestions where I should start? Is it the obvious ‘beginning of the series’ or can I jump in somewhere else? Do her books tend to be more serious or more lighthearted, or do they vary? (I am just getting back into fantasy again after getting really burned out on it years ago,)
I’d definitely recommend starting at the beginning of the Farseer trilogy–it’s really crafted in such a way that it makes the most sense to read all 9 books in order. I think she has a good balance of atmosphere overall.
I love Hobb so much for her trilogies of trilogies that I considered naming my boat Vivacia. (Stuck with the name she came with, though. Gandalf is the perfect name to take me places). I still re-read every one of them, and her world-building is unbelievably perfect. And so DELIBERATE. Nothing ever feels ret-conned or tacked on later.
Hahaha that’s great. Seriously, though, I think she’s the best current fantasy author. When I first found her books (soon after she started writing them, I think, because only the first two Farseer books were available), I was like, FINALLY. I had exhausted everything else on my library’s fantasy shelf and was really bored with what was left. With a few exceptions, Hobb blew the rest of that library shelf out of the water. (haha, get it, ships. sorry.)
My favorite series in the world: The Wars of Light and Shadow by JANNY WURTS. Extremely epic but deeply personal in the character development. Fantasy with excellent world-building. I reread one of the books every year. I can’t do it justice with any sort of description.
Also very good:
The Dresden Files by JIM BUTCHER – wizard-for-hire in present-day Chicago. Urban fantasy, lots of boom. The books are good from the start, but I got addicted between 3 and 5 when it started getting arc-y.
1632 series by ERIC FLINT and others – A town in present-day (at time of writing) West Virginia gets transported into Germany in 1632. Tons of authors are now writing novels and short stories in the shared universe exploring how the town’s citizens change the world and the course of history. I’m not a historian, but it seems to me to be very well-researched.
Night Angel Trilogy by BRENT WEEKS – a young man becomes an assassin, things happen with magical artifacts and royal intrigue and all sorts of stuff. Again, I can’t do it justice. The author is a Christian. I am as well and found the Christian themes and biblical references unmistakable. My husband is not and didn’t notice them. You may find this information makes the books more appealing or less appealing. (Also check out his Lightbringer books)
Talyn and Hawkeye by HOLLY LISLE – not books in the same universe but both amazing. Strong female characters, both protagonists and antagonists. Both involve war and both have some fantasy elements, but that’s about the extent of the similarities. I was completely blown away by both.
Dresden Files is one of my absolute favorites–have to second the rec!
And you’re so right about when the addiction hits. If you’ve read the whole series, it always feels rough recommending it to a friend: “This series is AWESOME! No, seriously, it’s just…so…and everything about it is so…and the characters are…well, okay, none of them are around in the first book. Except for Harry, yeah. And Murphy, but she’s not as cool as she will be. And that one, but not for long. BUT IT GETS SO GOOD!” And you have to convince them to get through the first couple of “these are pretty okay” books.
But they’re such a fun series, especially for nerds, because reading a book in Harry’s voice feels like sitting down for coffee with a nerdy friend. Who happens to be a wizard.
Plus, Dresden Files are home to Waldo Butters, who…yeah, okay, if I had to describe my perfect man, I would just say Waldo Butters and leave it at that. (*siiiiiiiiiiiiiigh*)
Several of my favorites have already made it onto the list (Tamora Pierce and Terry Pratchett, amongst others) so I wanted to add some of my other top books-I-throw-at-people.
1) the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch. There’s 3 in the series (Midnight Riot, Moon over Soho, Whispers Underground). Rookie cop Peter Grant becomes a magician’s apprentice in modern-day London. These books are brilliant – funny, full of mythology, yet simultaneously grounded in reality. Seriously cannot recommend enough.
2) Privilege of the Sword and Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner. Sword fights, coming-of-age stories and political intrigues.
3) the Jeeves and Wooster series, by PG Wodehouse. Hysterical comedy of errors stories about an incompetent man and his all-knowing butler. For added points, find the tv series starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry.
4) The Demon’s Lexicon trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan. YA fiction with magic, demons and dark secrets.
5) The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. Two warring magicians set their apprentices to a duel within a magical circus, but there are unforseen consequences. Some of the most gorgeous prose I’ve ever written – it completely sucks you in.
Wodehouse! He’s a genius, and everyone should read Jeeves and Wooster, and a selection of his other books (I believe A Damsel in Distress is in the public domain by now, and some of his others too). He can always make me laugh.
There’s 3 in the series (Midnight Riot, Moon over Soho, Whispers Underground)
Four if you live in the UK! Broken Homes came out last month. Yes, I am only here to make you jealous. 😀
D: Ughhhhh so jealous. How do you feel about trans-Atlantic shipping? (only mostly kidding :P)
If it helps, I am pretty sure you can get amazon.co.uk to deliver to the US (back in ye olde days, my family bought books from amazon.com and had them shipped to Germany – were we ever glad when amazon.de started carrying English books), and it might even be possible to buy the ebook version for a US Kindle. Disclaimer, I have never tried this and you might run into region-specific weirdness that means you can’t (ask me about Apple sometime…)
Yes, okay, good, I was going to say Privilege of the Sword!
Oh, hurray! I was wondering when someone would get to Privilege of the Sword! It is my go-to for moving, funny, delightful comfort reading. Also, probably my most recommended book ever. Seriously, I could just read/recommend this book forever! Anyone who enjoys a good coming-of-age story will probably love it. Probably best read after Swordspoint, which is also excellent.
Uh, also, I am not too embarrassed to admit that when I need complete fluff, I totally go back and read Anne McCaffrey: it’s complete comfort reading from when I was 12. It’s usually the same formula and it almost always turns out for the best, and sometimes that’s perfect. Also, dragons.
Pern is great brain candy. =D
Mercedes Lackey fills the same niche for me. I’ll read anything she writes because it’s literary comfort food 🙂
Yes, everyone has nicely passionate and euphemistic sex and there are cool leading women characters and I am twelve and want a dragon.
Fantasy is my bag, really.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. A beautiful fairy tale for adults. It’s about thought and love and personal sacrifice. It’s *slightly* dark, but not terribly so.
Tam Lin by Pamela Dean. A modern retelling of the the Ballad of Tam Lin, set at a midwestern liberal arts college in the 70s. Dean weaves the magic into the mundane so, so subtly.
The Count of Monte Cristo. On of my all time favorite books ever. I’ve read it at least a dozen times. Yes, it’s long. Yes, it’s 19th century French Literature. But it’s the ultimate tale of revenge and longing and love and loss.
It’s kids books, but I love the Bartimeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud. Fantastic fantasy novels.
A non fiction book, but EVERYONE should read Half The Sky. It will make you enraged and sad and depressed and hopeful all at the same time.
Seconding the Bartimaeus books by Jonathan Stroud. They’re technically YA, yes, but they deal with some very dark and serious issues and are VERY cleverly written. The narrative voice is especially well done!
The Count! What a great tale of revenge.
The Count of Monte Cristo is the best adventure/revenge story I’ve ever read. My favorite bit is the Chateau d’If!!!
N-thing Tana French, and in that same vein S.J. Bolton is fast turning into one of my favorite authors. Bolton is a British writer who can keep you on the edge of your seat (or reading until 4 in the morning when you have work the next day). She writes crime/psychological thrillers, so lots of trigger warnings, but wow, what talent. Not well known here yet, but HIGHLY recommended!
Also n-thing Terry Pratchett. Such subtle, sweet humor mixed with a fierce intelligence and fantastic story-telling ability! I’m not a fantasy reader, but I will read ANYTHING he writes!
Susan Palwick – Shelter. This is for those who like Sherri Tepper or any sociological sci-fi. It’s set in the near future, and has frightening technology coupled with a very human story – a mother trying to protect her son. I’m not generally a re-reader and this one I’ve read multiple times.
If you’re a fan of Victorian Gothic writing I highly recommend The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. My cat has for some reason destroyed TWO copies of this so I need to pick up another (his destroying it should be seen as less of a criticism of the writing and more of my inability to put thick, enticing books out of his reach) but it is haunting and quite engaging.
And if haunting is your gig? Phil Rickman. Another Brit (seeing a pattern here lol) who writes fantastic, thick novels set in present day with hints (and more than hints) of the supernatural about them. Why he isn’t wildly popular I’ll never know (well, his books are pretty dense reading, I’ll admit, but so worth it!) but he has a main series with the protagonist Merrily Watkins, Church of England priest and also exorcist. He’s written several stand-alone novels that are about minor characters in his Merrily series, and all of them are FANTASTIC!
And lest I forget my user-namesake, Jasper Fforde is utterly grand as well. Fun, engaging and almost Dr. Who-esque in the wonderful absurdity!
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. The book is so strange (not weird but strange in the extent to which it creates its own world, like all great art) that even if I were to tell you the plot it wouldn’t really spoil anything. It’s one of those accretive reading experiences where the feelings build on each other and the book attains a remarkable intensity.
Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald. Another very strange book, superbly written (at least in translation–original is in German).
An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler. Part memoir, part cookbook, part philosophy, beautifully written.
A Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde. A recent one for me. I already knew the plot, which had kept me away because it seemed stupid. The execution is anything but stupid, though. Tremendous fun and deep at the same time.
The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford.
My list here… I may have to come back and flesh out, because I go to work in 6 hours and haven’t slept yet. But the bones of it are:
1. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. This is published Sherlock Holmes fanfic, no bones about it, with a woman driving the show. The series has wandered off into Dark Drama and How Do I Do Emotions lately, but it’s come back around with Pirate King and the newest one, I hear. But Beekeeper’s is the book that forever puts me back to 15 and remaking myself for the first time.
2. Maiden Voyage, by Tania Aebi. Nonfiction. A teenage girl is given the opportunity to sail around the world, and she takes it. This book is the engagement ring between me and my boat.
3. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. Time travel, kilts, history, medicine, and a lot of sex. 8 books and counting, each around 800 pages. These are chocolate by the pound. They are probably bad for me. I own all eight in paperback, hardback, and audio. /Get the audiobooks/.
4. Starship and the Canoe. More nonfiction, about a physicist and his son the kayak-builder. Beautiful dual biography that ranges from theoretical interstellar travel to clouds of whale’s breath.
Outlander is addictive sexy fun, but also contains rather a lot of nasty situations and main characters being badly hurt. I’ll will still read every word.
Oh yes. Content warnings out the back door and across the street, but I can’t stop.
The premise is ridiculous, but somehow that doesn’t seem to matter. I think it’s the loveable characters who make it work – not just J & C, but heaps of minor ones as well.
And they’re long! Anyone who likes these: you’re not going to run out of bookage any time soon.
The Mary Russell books are great. I was disappointed in the direction she was taking the series too, but Pirate King and Garment of Shadows take her back solidly into “badass lady adventures in a beautifully researched and vividly depicted historical setting,” which is really where King is strongest. (I have a lot of love in my heart for them, because they’re the books that got me started learning Hebrew when I was 16, and thus along the path of biblical studies/history of religions.)
Have you read Folly? Or the Martinelli series?
Yes and yes. I thought Folly was beautiful, and I enjoyed the Martinelli series, but I definitely like the Mary Russell series the best of King’s work.
I have another book to add, one I can’t believe I forgot.
5. The Curve of Time. Nonfiction. Philosophy and motherhood in the form of one single mom, four kids, and a 21′ boat. Every summer, they rent out their little house in BC and putter North into the fjords and channels of the Inside Passage. There’s no chronology or narrative, just vignettes and the overarching feeling of being unhooked from time. My father read these to me as bedtime stories from the day I was born until I was in high school. And the first time I turned in an assignment to the woman who would become my major adviser in university, she read it, looked at me, and asked ‘Have you read the Curve of Time?’ They sink into you like that.
And two not-books but I want to recommend them as well:
1. The podcast series Welcome to Nightvale. Think Twilight Zone meets Lake Woebegon with a lot of cutting, positive satire about social issues in a cheerful horror setting.
2. The BBC drama Call the Midwife. Two seasons and counting. I recommend this because I have never watched any show so -compassionate- towards its characters. Or any show so much about the lives of women. Women are the entire focus here. Women who work inside the home, outside it, women from all walks of 1950s London life. This is the show I want to recommend every time we tell someone to turn to women’s media.
And oh no, one more book! Wrath of Trees, by Bard Bloom. Political seagoing fantasy war story from the POV of a sentient psychic tree. Yep.
Welcome to Night Vale! It’s so much fun. I just discovered it and I’m rationing the episodes so I don’t run out too soon.
It is an excellent packing or cleaning-friend, as each episode is just slightly longer than 20 minutes, so it’s helps get a good burst in and then sit down for 5 minutes when it’s time to change to the next one. I just started it (about 9 eps in) and am completely hooked.
My commute is exactly 25 minutes, so it’s perfect. I’m on my second go-through. And it’s still so Perfect.
1. The Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay
High fantasy, drawing on the same old British sources as Alan Garner. I completely adore all of GGK’s books, but these are the ones to start with. (It’s a trilogy; first book is The Summer Tree.)
2. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
This is such a funny, dark, engaging fantasy book. The hero. Kwothe, is wonderful and clever and outrageously melodramatic and you spend the entire time simultaneously wanting to cheer for him and shake him very hard (or just stand back and facepalm).
3. The Codex Alera series, by Jim Butcher
Caveat: the quality of the first one is considerably lower than the rest (and it’s much more problematic), but once you get to the third onwards (there are six) they become some of my favourite books. More fantasy, with different species that really *feel* different, and very clever heroes. And awesome women.
4. Railsea by China Mieville
Incredible worldbuilding, and such an awesome concept carried all the way through. And really really bad puns as part of the text, and giant moles.
5. All of the Vimes books. Particularly Feet of Clay, The Fifth Elephant, and Night Watch.
Seconding Patrick Rothfuss! I absolutely loved The Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear.
Selma Lagerlöf – THE STORY OF GÖSTA BERLING. Swedish author, first woman to win Nobel Prize in literature. Slightly leaning towards magical realism, incorporating some Swedish folklore. Beautiful story about shame and love.
NJALS SAGA. Passed down through oral traditions, recorded in writing in the 13th century. Norse epic about long feuds and the legal actions that follow, all during the time of the christening of Iceland in year 1000. Contains the most gripping death scenes i’ve ever encountered. Reading it i also learned that a stylish viking death meant going out with a one-liner.
Stig Dagerman – GERMAN AUTUMN, journalistic account of the situation in Germany after WWII and before the Marsall Plan. Also, ISLAND OF THE DOOMED. cheesy title, but devouring, a nightmarish fever dream.
Some favorites I haven’t seen yet
P.C. Hodgell’s God Stalker Chronicles — brilliant fantasy bildungsroman series that includes deicide, arboreal drift, low humor, and high mythology.
Jean Merrill’s The Pushcart War — a YA novel about corporate collusion, DIY urbanism, and historiography. Also pickle vendors. And small children with pea shooters. Probably the reason I majored in history as an undergrad and am now in a PhD program for urban planning.
Elizabeth Moon’s Remnant Population — first contact with an alien civilization, the hubris of space-going science, all told from the perspective of a stubborn old woman who decides to stay all by herself on an about-to-be abandoned colony planet.
David Hilfiker’s Urban Injustice: How Ghettos Happen — a slim but powerful history of the inner city and how social welfare became branded as something for “those people.”
Edward Bloor’s Tangerine — another YA novel that is about societal things like subdivisions, sports culture, immigration, agricultural labor, and is also about a scrappy kid trying to find his way at a new school.
I love P.C. Hodgell, but fear I fell behind or got lost in some of the more recent omnibus stuff, and don’t know how to jump back in.
Love P.C. Hodgell! The current printings are:
1)The God Stalker Chronicles (1st 2 books, God Stalk and Dark of the Moon. I own them as an older omnibus called Dark of the Gods)
2)Seeker’s Bane (next 2 books, Seeker’s Mask and To Ride A Rathorn, may still be available as standalones)
3)Bound In Blood (5th book)
4)Honor’s Paradox (6th book)
And please, anyone new to the series, don’t let the new cover art drive you away!
Wherever I ended, it involved Jane creating a shitload of chaos (not a spoiler – Jame = CHAOS) at some training thing or other. Probably To Ride A Rathorn? Cool, thanks.
Definitely To Ride A Rathorn, then. 🙂 You’re very welcome!
I was going to recommend Hodgell as well, but glad others have already done so!
They’re brilliant but flawed, but not in ways that personally bother me. I know some people who’ve bounced off the main character SO HARD; she’s a bit polarizing. If you are STRONGLY allergic to whiffs of Mary Suedom, you will probably be one of the dislikers. If superheroes tend to bug you because you don’t like Special and Unique people, Jame will bug you in the same way; Hodgell grew up as a major comic-books fan, and though these are high fantasy, you can definitely see some of the same tropes here.
There are six books in the series so far, with a seventh grinding through the publishing process and at least two more to go after that. The first two, “God Stalk” and “Dark of the Moon”, were published in the 80s and are now available in an omnibus as “The God Stalker Chronicles”, and those may be the ones you’ve read, JenniferP; “Seeker’s Mask” was published in the mid 1990s through a small press imprint, as was the 2006 “To Ride a Rathorn”, and Baen has republished those two together as “Seeker’s Bane”. Two more, “Bound in Blood” and “Honor’s Paradox”, have been published since; they finish off the 3-volume Tentir cycle started by “To Ride a Rathorn” (Jame’s time in military school, being trained as an officer).
If sibling or cousin incest are triggers for you, avoid these; they feature a ruling caste with a tradition for such (in similar manner to ancient Egypt’s) for the purpose of strengthening the hereditary magical abilities, at the obvious cost of lots of horrible inbreeding and the resulting problems.
I love The Pushcart War! It still seems kind of odd to me how much, because I usually read fantasy/scifi stuff, but it was for some reason very much a comfort reading type book.
Oh my gosh, people have heard of The Pushcart War! It was a total comfort read for me, too, and it’s one of those books that it seems like nobody ever knows.
I had totally and completely forgotten The Pushcart War. And that is sad, because it was one of my very favorite books when I was ten years old.
De-lurking to say HOORAY for The Pushcart War! I love that book. When I was small, the public library had an excellent audiobook of it (I don’t remember who read it, but it was published by Recorded Books), and my parents used to borrow it whenever we went on a roadtrip, because they enjoyed listening to it at least as much as I did. Annie Koh covered the range of subject matter pretty well, but I just wanted to mention that it’s also incredibly funny on a lot of levels. The line about the Large Object Theory of History makes me laugh harder every year.
Many of my favorite authors have already gotten a mention, so we’ll skip the Pratchet and the Bujold…
For romance fans (and fans of good fluff in general), I can not sing the praises of Courtney Milan loudly enough. Nineteenth century, English romance with flawed but good leads, an excellent attention to time and place details, and lots of humor.
Spots, the Space Marine is an excellent and well told SciFi story of a middle aged woman who had been called to active duty.
V For Vendetta fills my need for all things dystopian, and what it doesn’t get, The Gap Series by Steven Donaldson gets nicely. (Note that it is not possible to put sufficient trigger warnings on either of those works. They are deeply problematic in many ways, but I love them, and they are comfort-in-a-weird-way books that I pull out when I am feeling really dark. But I am serious about the content warnings.)
War for the Oaks by Emma Bull is as very early entry into urban fantasy, and it is my favorite book of all time. Music and fae and Minneapolis…
The Rook by Daniel Mallory. Centers around a woman who works for a British agency in charge of the paranormal.
Keeping this down to five creators is pulling teeth. 😉
Kerry Greenwood – the Corinna Chapman mysteries. She’s better known for the Phryne Fisher mysteries, which are also fun, but I love her modern-day Melbourne baker-mystery solver best. Ex-accountant, current baker, lives a lovely hedonistic lifestyle in an apartment building full of interesting well-rounded characters. The mysteries are good, but it’s mostly fun to kick around with Corinna and her friends. Also, Corinna is a fat lady and happy about it.
Iain M. Banks – Culture novels. Amazing SF. The Culture is just so huge and vivid, and the books spend time at the edges of it where lots of interesting things happen. All the novels are independent of one another so you can start anywhere, though I particularly recommend Look to Windward and Matter.
Cheryl Strayed – Wild. We all love Dear Sugar, and this is an amazing autobiographical novel about hiking a huge part of the Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her mother and the dissolution of her first marriage.
Ted Naifeh – Courtney Crumrin. These are the comics I wish I’d had as a little girl. Adventures of a young witch learning about the Night Things and the history of the coven in her new town, helped by her mysteriouis uncle Alonsyous. They’re now being reprinted in gorgeous hardcover full-color editions.
Jonathan Lethem – The Wall of the Sky, The Wall of the Eye. Well, okay, there are a bunch of Lethem’s novels I really like, including Girl in Landscape and As She Crawled Across the Table, but his short story collection is excellent and a good place to start. Occasionally disturbing, highly insightful, personal, interesting fiction.
I adore the Corinna Chapman books, they are my comfort reading, but I would like to add a trigger warning: Corinna’s two bakery assistants, Kylie and Gossamer, have anorexia (I think Goss also has bulimic tendencies) and Corinna (who is the authorial voice) treats this as them being silly blonde teenage girls with their silly diets that they’ll grow out of.
Almost everything by Charles De Lint, though I specifically always reccomend (own multiple copies so I can lend them to people) Someplace to Be Flying, and Trader. They’re both mythic fantasy and AMAZING.
Second the de Lint, though I think his Newford short story collections might be a better entry point? Art and magic and holding true to yourself; that’s de Lint in a nutshell.
I absolutely adore deLint, but I would add a trigger warning. A lot of his books deal with implicit or explicit (without getting graphic) sexual assault, including among family members. Other issues include emotional abuse and neglect as well as the occasional bit of violence. They are AMAZING books and stories but be warned that many of the characters have somewhat tragic backstories.
The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov. Think Latin literature’s magic realism, but then add a hefty dose of Soviet paranoia and Russian literary tradition.
The Moon by Whale Light, by Diane Ackerman. Four long essays on four different animals and the scientists who research them. Absolutely beautiful.
The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende. Please read this book, especially if you loved the movie version from the 1980s. It is so much more than that.
The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis. Well, I think you should read everything by Connie Willis, but this is a pretty good starting point. Less madcap craziness than some of her other works, but still full of awesome time travel and its serious repercussions.
A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M Miller Jr. Post-apocalyptic. Medieval and futuristic. New society and the mistakes that we are doomed to repeat. This book is amazing.
The Snow Queen, The Summer Queen, World’s End, and Tangled Up in Blue are set in a post-FTL galactic universe that must now rely only on travel through black hole singularities. Tiamat is a world cut off for a century+ at a time, and kept in technological darkness by the Empire to make it ripe for the picking when travel is available, so that the Empire can keep slaughtering the Mers, a sentient seal-like species, for the extended life that their blood conveys. The first book is, very loosely, a retelling of the fairy tale The Snow Queen, in a super-sci-fi kinda way.
Psion, Catspaw, and Dreamfall (and word on the street is there’s going to be a fourth book coming at some point, which excites me to no end) are another far-future sci-fi series, following Cat, a half-Hydran psychic, as he navigates life in a Human universe after Hydrans have been almost totally genocided. Fantastic story, and Vinge is a very good author at exploring the costs of othering on those othered and the wider society. While I’ve reread Catspaw more than the other two, the whole series is excellent.
Excellent, thoughtful characters, strong and interesting worldbuilding, and action and adventure abound.
ok, so first I’m bookmarking this thread for all eternity because I *always* need new book recommendations and this is a lovely long list! Second my favorites
1. Murder, With Peacocks by Donna Andrews- hysterically funny murder mystery, the series stays good through about book 5
2. Enchanted inc- sweet and funny twist on fantasy- magic is real but most of us don’t know it because we have just a little… enough to be fooled by illusion. the main character has none and that makes her special.
3. again Pratchett- love almost all of his, current favorite though is “Snuff”, made me laugh and cry and think!
4. Shattered Silk- Dark and creepy and empowering (the main character learns to stand up for herself) and just Good mystery/ghost story
5. Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie- romance, but hysterically funny and with a main character who is not traditional beauty but has spunk and personality. Also by the same author, Agnes and the hitman.
I need to skip past most of the comments above, because I keep getting sidetracked into commenting and looking up texts on various book-buying websites. So these have likely been recced and re-recced.
URSULA LE GUIN — Everything she writes, but especially THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS. Every time I reread this book I need to schedule in an hour or so afterward just to sit by myself and come back to reality. It’s a really powerful SF novel and does some very interesting things with gender.
NEIL GAIMAN — Everything he writes, but especially AMERICAN GODS, NEVERWHERE, and ANANSAI BOYS.
STEPHEN KING — I picked up THE STAND on a free book table once (unfortunately as I was coming down with a cold…) and have been hooked ever since. I am currently devouring THE DARK TOWER series. I’d also highly recommend 11/22/63 as it breaks from his usual style, and he’s quite good with historical fiction.
PERCIVAL EVERETT — EVERYTHING. HE. WRITES. He doesn’t seem to be a very well-known author, unfortunately, because he writes some of the sharpest, wittiest novels I have ever read, especially on issues of race in America. Top novels: ERASURE (which explicitly takes aim at /Native Son/ and other books that present a formulaic “black experience” as universal [an idea which he rejects in all his works, but most explicitly in this one]), A HISTORY OF THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN PEOPLE, PROPOSED BY STROM THURMOND (shenanigans in the publishing industry, satirizes both large-scale publishing houses and racist white dudes — it’s one of the funniest things I’ve read), and WOUNDED (a personal favourite, but really intense — it deals with race and homophobia in a Wyoming town).
COLSON WHITEHEAD — As above, really. He picks some of the most interesting and unique jobs for his main characters to set up his novels, be they a nomenclature analyst (APEX HIDES THE HURT) or an elevator inspector (THE INTUITIONIST). I’ve recently purchased his zombie novel, /Zone One/, but haven’t read it yet (hence the lack of all caps to recommend it as yet).
I could go on at length, but I’ll leave things there. 🙂
Seconding Colson Whitehead. He is such a great writer. I, too, just picked up Zone One, but I haven’t opened it yet because I love zombies and also they give me nightmares, so I’m waiting for Christmas when I go stay with my family to read it. I know I can outrun them.
I was speaking with an academic who’d done some work on and with Colson Whitehead, and apparently while writing this book, Whitehead would start conversations with “fast or slow zombies?” and would decide whether or not to continue the conversation based on the answer to that question.
(I assume this anecdote was exaggerated for comedic effect, but it’s awesome nevertheless).
I’m about halfway through American Gods and I LOVE IT. Really warming up to the main character was a bit of a slow burn for me, but it was totally worth the wait.
The two books I always recommend are: The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas and The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall.
Both are books in the post-modern tradition and both are quite meta-fictionish. They both deal explicitly with the nature of reality and the influence of ideas on reality. They also both do so by means of sending the protagonist (female for the first one, male for the second) on a quest.
The reason that I appreciate them, is because they both have gripping stories, interesting ideas and good literary execution. I identify strongly (or maybe this should be in the past tense) with the protagonist from The End of Mr.Y and I wanted to cuddle the protagonist from the Raw Shark Texts.
If you can pick only one, pick the Raw Shark Texts. While I am a little less enthusiastic about the character development, I find the environment / setting / ‘universe’ both more interesting and more credible, somehow. Also: a cat named Ian.
I love love love the End of Mr Y.
I like her other books too, Popco. Going Out. Our Tragic Universe. All have strong female characters and marry science with literature in an engaging way.
Some of my favorite authors have come up previously, but I will cheerfully offer the following:
ELIZABETH BEAR: I lovelovelove Jenny Casey, an augmented Marine with a chip in her head and a bionic arm. Her trilogy, Hammered, Scardown and Worldwired made me really happy, and also made me cry. Bear is prolific and flexible, with work in a bunch of sections of SF/F. I really liked Jacob’s Ladder, her generation ship trilogy, but you can hardly go wrong with any of her work.
PATRICIA BRIGGS: Better known for the Mercy Thompson books, my favorites of hers are Dragon Bones and Dragon Blood. There are swords and magic and really excellent horses (why yes, at times it DOES seem as though Robin McKinley has a direct line to my fantasies) as well as some harrowing triggery things about abuse and torture. Although all the good guys win, it can get intense.
ELIZABETH MOON: I like the ideas she has about service, and space forces and how relationships particularly family relationships work. There are a couple long series with Herris Serrano and Esmay Suiza, and then Vatta’s War just blew me away.
C J CHERRYH: Has been telling me what is what forever. I like her works in space best, especially the Chanur set – I think there are five altogether starting with The Pride of Chanur, where a loose human is taken aboard a ship of… catlike aliens, and things run quickly out of control from there. There is more about politics and jockeying for position and alliances and trade than I ever got from any previous space opera.
Seconding (or n-thing) DIANA WYNNE JONES, MEGAN WHALEN TURNER, TAMORA PIERCE and NK JEMMISON for awesome.
Delurking for the first time after more than a year to contribute here. A few that I don’t believe have been mentioned thus far:
-The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd. Funny novel about starting college in the 60s and discovering graphic design. Written by a well-regarded book jacket designer
-Almost anything by Nicholson Baker. A great mix of comedy and sometimes erotica, but in a tasteful, wacky, real way.
-Into the Wild by Jon Krakuer (almost anything by Krakauer really). Non-fiction book about Chris McCandless, who gave everything away to journey across America and into Alaska. If anyone has seen the movie but not read the book, I highly recommend the book.
-The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. Her use of language is unparalleled in my opinion.
-An author I loved in high school, and whose older works still hold up as an adult: Francesca Lia Block. Great novels and short stories about strong, flawed female characters, with a hefty amount of magic realism thrown in (many implied instances of abuse in various forms throughout, however).
Did you read the sequel to _The Cheese Monkeys_, _The Learners_? Good stuff, especially if you’re a sociology geek who’s fascinated by Milgram’s experiment.
I read the sequel and didn’t love it as much as the first one, I just didn’t find the characters and the story as engaging. I did love learning about Milgram’s experiment, but I was mostly grateful that the book alerted me to it so I could go outside of the book to read more about it.
Limiting myself to the books that I am THE MOST SUPER PASSIONATE about that I don’t see rec’d a whole ton, may I offer the following if you lean towards either magical realism or historical literary fiction, which is my bag.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett — Opera, terrorism, clashing cultures, romance, intrigue, all shadowed over by a lovely layer of magical realism that makes it all the more hazy and curious.
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami — I really like all of Murakami’s novels, but this is my favorite. It’s melancholy and haunting and definitely disorienting but captivating and intriguing at the same time. If you don’t like it when you first start it, set it aside and pick it back up later or just keep going and see if it grabs you, because it’s definitely unique.
Embers by Sandor Marai — Mysterious but not exactly a mystery. Beautiful discussions of friendship and childhood and sentimentality.
Freedom and Necessity by Steven Brust and Emma Bull — If I had to pick a favorite book, this is it. Epistolary novel set in mid-19th century revolutionary Europe (mostly England, but it moves around). There is a pretty strong romantic subplot but I think even people who wouldn’t normally like romances would like it because it’s handled so beautifully and is so interesting. Definitely some intrigue and mystery in this one, as well as a lot of historical bits.
The Coast of Uptopia by Tom Stoppard — Actually a trilogy of plays, but they read beautifully just as literature. The main characters are the big hitters of Russian revolutionary thought (Herzen, Bakunin Turgenev and their associates and contemporaries), and it is heartbreaking and beautiful and as literary as you’d expect.
I love the idea of this thread. Please, Captain, could we have one about movies, too? 😀
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. A confessed child rapist and murderer recollects his crimes in some of the most intoxicating prose I’ve ever read. (Trigger warnings out the wazoo, obviously.)
Galax-Arena by Gillian Rubinstein. A YA sci-fi novel about young gymnasts who are abducted and taken to a faraway planet where they’re made to perform life-threatening stunts for the amusement of the extraterrestrial spectators. It’s way more compelling than this summary probably makes it sound.
A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman. The story of the relationship between Thara, a wealthy Sri Lankan girl; Latha, her servant and closest friend; and Biso, who flees her abusive husband with three small children in tow. The lives of the three women intersect in unexpected ways.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. An unlikely friendship emerges between Paloma — a precocious, suicidal twelve-year-old — and Renee, the brilliant and homely concierge/autodidact who supervises the luxury apartment building where Paloma’s family lives.
Wise Children by Angela Carter. A magical realist novel about twin chorus girls Dora and Nora Chance. Deals with father/daughter relationships, illegitimate parentage, Vaudeville, film, and Shakespeare.
I only feel moved to comment to add one series, as there are more than a few books above that I have recommended to people in the past:
SERGEI LUKYANENKO – his NIGHT WATCH books always make me sad when they’re done. The story, in the beginning, follows a young and inexperienced member of the Night Watch, an organization dedicated to policing the actions of the ‘Dark Others’ — dark supernaturals, who finds himself in a growing confrontation with members of the Day Watch, which polices the actions of the Light Others (as you would assume). As things are rarely so simple, they become less easy to define through the series.
I loved the take on the supernatural, but I also enjoyed the depiction of modern Russia; the series is steeped in Russian lore and the realties of living in Moscow today, and is pretty fascinating in that sense.
If you saw the movie, it was not at all the same! Trust me!
I love the idea of this thread. Please, Captain, could we have one about movies, too? 😀
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. A confessed child rapist and murderer recollects his crimes in some of the most intoxicating prose I’ve ever read. (Trigger warnings out the wazoo, obviously.)
Galax-Arena by Gillian Rubinstein. A YA sci-fi novel about young gymnasts who are abducted and taken to a faraway planet where they’re made to perform life-threatening stunts for the amusement of the extraterrestrial spectators. It’s way more compelling than this summary probably makes it sound.
A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman. The story of the relationship between Thara, a wealthy Sri Lankan girl; Latha, her servant and closest friend; and Biso, who flees her abusive husband with three small children in tow, and the unexpected manner in which their lives intersect.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. A friendship emerges between Renee, the secretly brilliant concierge of a luxury Parisian apartment building, and two of the building’s tenants: a Japanese businessman and a precocious, suicidal twelve-year-old girl.
Wise Children by Angela Carter. A magical realist novel about twin chorus girls Dora and Nora Chance. Explores father/daughter relationships, illegitimate parentage, Vaudeville, film, and Shakespeare.
Wise Children is glorious.
The author I recommend again and again is Philip Ridley. He grew up and still lives in the East end of London, and his children’s books particularly – ‘Kasper in the Glitter’, ‘Vinegar Street’ and ‘Scribbleboy’ are fantastic, lively, peculiar, urban fairy tales. In his more recent children’s book ‘Zip’s Apollo’, one of the main characters is a transgender teenager and the whole trans ‘issue’ is handled in the best way possible.
Self Help books for people dealing with or recovering from intimate partner abuse:
1. “Why Does He Do That ?” by Lundy Bancroft. Very insightful book with a focus on the dynamics of male abusers. It lays out the topic in a no nonsense manner and sweeps aside all the mythology, rationalizations and excuses. It does not differentiate between a physically and emotionally violent partner, and addresses all abuse as violence. It helped me to see the light.
2. “Trauma and Recovery” by Judith Herman. An intensive work that addresses trauma and the emotional and physical fallout that can result from trauma. It addresses trauma that result from a spectrum of incidence, from a single act of chaos to trauma that occurs over a period of time like domestic abuse or hostage taking. It helped me to understand many of the (c)PTSD symptoms that had infiltrated my life.
3. “Stalking the Soul” by Marie France Hirigoyen. The byline is “Emotional Abuse and the Erosion of Identity”. The translation from french is a little clunky, but the content is excellent. She addresses many of the corrosive effects of emotional abuse in romantic relationships as well as the workplace, as well as tactics to address them. I found this work to be validating and helpful.
4. “Character Disturbance” by George K. Simon. This continues on where his “In Sheep’s Clothing” left off. His focus is on the tactics of manipulative people (who are also frequently abusive/treacherous/ sometimes criminal), and focuses the attention away from people’s professed feelings(emotions) to their actions(behaviour). Some of his writing could use some tidying up, but I found this book to be extremely helpful. He also has clear advice about dealing with manipulative people, whether they are a romantic partner or a coworker or relative. Short and straightforward.
5. “The Drama of the Gifted Child” by Alice Miller. Alice Miller’s work comes up over and over in writings about trauma. This book addresses her concept of the “poisonous pedagogies” of child rearing, and the shadow that casts over a person’s self concept, relationships and parenting. This was aimed at a psychotherapist reader, but the concepts are far reaching. Alice Miller has written many books that address childhood trauma including abuse, incest and neglect. This volume is slim, but with many profound concepts.
I haven’t read Trauma and Recovery (though it is on my wish list), but if you’re interested in reading about trauma, Waking the Tiger is a trauma classic and it’s an amazing and accessible book. Peter A Levine’s book In An Unspoken Voice is also amazing, but Waking the Tiger is a better place to start. Both discuss the ways in which trauma is a freeze reflex and how it affects not only the mind but the body, with a lot of info on healing trauma from within.
Seconding “Why Does He Do That ?” by Lundy Bancroft. — Very helpful. Part of what he walks through understanding is that many abusers feel quite content with their abuse, and shows of remorse are just shows.
Or, as we were saying in another thread, the story they’re in is not Beauty and the Beast, where a harmful act is an anomaly you should ignore in the hope of bringing out the inner prince, but Bluebeard, where a harmful act is just one tiny hint of the epic scale of what is really going on.
Thirding, fourthing, and fifthing (but not Firthing!) the recommendation for “Why Does He Do That?”. Lundy Bancroft helped save my life with that stuff, no lie.
1. Ursula Le Guin – The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. This is some of the most elegant, mature, intelligent sci-fi you’re ever likely to come across. Not for people with short attention spans; the build-up is slow but SO worth it in the end.
2. Margaret Atwood – Cat’s Eye. This review on goodreads explains it all: “i know for a fact that books were written and published after this one, but i can’t for the life of me understand why.”
3. Todd Shimoda – The Fourth Treasure. This book is a little-known gem that I love introducing people to. A neuroscience student finds an interesting research subject when her boyfriend’s Japanese calligraphy teacher has a stroke, leaving him weakened and devoid of speech, communicating only in beautiful but incomprehensible markings. Her research takes her into her own Japanese ancestry as family secrets begin to unravel. The story is interwoven with a tale from 17th century Japan involving two rival calligraphers and the Daizen inkstone (the titular “fourth treasure”) and the book contains some beautiful calligraphy illustrations.
4. Yevgeny Zamyatin – We. This is the novel that inspired 1984 and basically created the genre of dystopian fiction. It’s thoroughly enjoyable and also chilling; it was written by Zamyatin in the Stalin era while he was on the run from the Russian authorities. If you’re a fan of dystopian fiction this is a must read!
5. Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse-5. This book is farcical, funny, bizarre and tragic all at the same time; part war novel, part science fiction, part non-fiction. It follows the life of Billy Pilgrim and his adventures in America and Germany during and after World War Two. He also sometimes finds himself helplessly propelled through time and space and adopted by a race of aliens called Tralfamadorians, who teach him about the nature of time and the universe.
The one book I recommend to everyone, regardless of literary tastes, is BRIDGE OF BIRDS: A NOVEL OF AN ANCIENT CHINA THAT NEVER WAS by Barry Hughart. The subtitle really says it all – it’s a quest-adventure story with a great deal of humor and heart, and a lot of feel-good.
I *LOVE* that book! I always forget to recommend it though, not sure why 🙂
Love this book and its sequels. SO FUNNY!
Captain, I was so surprised and excited to see that you rec The Lies of Locke Lamora! I met Scott Lynch at Readercon this summer and he was a fabulous speaker, so I have just started reading the series–I’ve only read the first one so far; definitely planning on reading the second before October 8–and I somehow managed to recommend it to a friend of mine before I’d even read it. (Luckily, said friend ADORED it.)
Anyway, my Top Five, of which four of which have already been recced but whatevs:
1. TAMORA PIERCE’S TORTALL SERIES: I discovered these way back when I was nine and there were only 7 books; there are now 17. They blew my tiny mind back in 1997 and they blow my hopefully somewhat less tiny mind now. Seriously one of the series that has just stuck with me and changed my freakin’ life. Not only is it about kickass ladies kicking ass, but it also contains a lot of very sensible discussion about, like, birth control ‘n’ stuff (magical birth control, in this case, but still). Shiny new bonus: Mark Oshiro over at Mark Does Stuff/Mark Reads is going through Tamora Pierce’s *entire* corpus, complete with videos, so now you can have him read most of this to you and watch him freak out a lot and squish his face!
2. PATRICIA C. WREDE’S ENCHANTED FOREST CHRONICLES. As I mentioned upthread, I went as Princess Cimorene for Halloween once. Princess Cimorene a princess who runs away to escape an arranged marriage and volunteers to become a dragon’s princess, then had badass adventures hangin’ out with dragons and sending the knights who come to rescue her on their confused but merry way.
3. GOOD OMENS. Because it’s Good Omens.
4. HOLLY BLACK’S “CURSE WORKERS” SERIES: A YA open-world/AU urban fantasy in which certain people have specific magical gifts/superpowers; as using magic is illegal, these people almost invariable end up as con artists or mobsters. If you like con stories, magic, mobsters, and slightly emo antiheroes who are trying to be good but suck at it because they were raised by criminals, then this is the series for you! (Holly Black is somewhat more famous for her Tithe/Modern Faerie series, which is also pretty awesome.)
5. SARAH REES BRENNAN’S UNSPOKEN: A twisty, hilarious, generally ingenious YA fantasy gothic romance/intrepid-girl-reporter-story mashup, about an aspiring journalist named Kami Glass and her imaginary friend, who is actually not imaginary after all and then HIJINKS ENSUE. HIJINKS AND ALSO ATTEMPTED MURDER. That sort of thing. Also the town they live in is called “Sorry-in-the-Vale.” The sequel releases in the US in a couple of weeks; I believe it is already out in the UK.
…I read a lot of YA, okay?
Seconding UNSPOKEN because OMG SO GOOD. Have you read Untold yet? I warn you, the ending slayed me. I spent the last three chapters curled up in a ball of emotional trauma, but in the best possible way.
Unspoken/Untold is also excellent for the Girl Friendships, which is a thing I feel some YA is kinda missing, and Rees Brennan’s books never are. Her friendships and sibling relationships kick ass – they are the best.
Sadly I am in the US and I have to wait two whole weeks for Untold!
In my experience, the endings of all of Sarah Rees Brennan’s books slay me. She has really nailed the Pyhrric Victory in literature! Is it worth it? GOD YES.
I loved the shit out of the Enchanted Forest novels when I was in middle school, and I remembered them vaguely as I grew up (“god I read some bad ass dragon/princess books, what WERE those?”). It was only later that the Awkward Army helped me put two and two together to figure out who wrote them. I may need to track them down and read them again. 🙂
Highly recommend for any middle school girls in your life.
Books I always recommend and try to share:
FOLLY by Laurie King. Laurie King writes a lot of excellent mysteries, including her longest series about Mary Russell and her mentor/husband Sherlock Holmes. This one, however, is a stand-alone about a woman struggling with life-long clinical depression and recent tragedy. There is a mystery and some suspense, but I love the book for the patience and tenderness the author gives her heroine, who seems very real to me.
A DRAM OF POISON by Charlotte Armstrong. Again, an excellent mystery author, Armstrong wrote mostly in the 50’s and 60’s, and one thing I love about her books is that even when squarely facing evil, her characters always find hope in the world and other people. This is the best example of that; it starts as a very quiet love story, then after some pain and struggle, ends with a series of well-drawn eccentric characters joining forces for the greater good and each other.
THE SILVER METAL LOVER by Tanith Lee. SF/Fantasy about a teenage girl who falls in love with a robot and grows into a real person because of it.
CROCODILE ON THE SANDBANK by Elizabeth Peters. Wonderfully funny Victorian era mystery starring Miss Amelia Peabody, budding Egyptologist. Great on its own, but if you decide you like it, she’s written another dozen or so in the series. And she’s written more awesome gothic mystery/romance books, both historical and ‘contemporary’ (70’s and 80’s) under that name and Barbara Michaels as well. SUMMER OF THE DRAGON is another favorite, about a paleontology grad student so desperate for a summer internship she agrees to help a kooky millionaire look for dragon bones in Arizona.
THE COMPASS ROSE and THE WIND’S TWELVE QUARTERS by Ursula K. LeGuin. LeGuin is rightly famous for her SF/fantasy novels, but her two short story collections are some of my favorite writing ever, by anyone. So much beauty, humor and insight.
Now to go read the other posts and start a wish list! 🙂
1. Jim C. Hines’ Princess series: in which Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty team up, kick ass and take names. I love Hines’ take on revamping fairy tales. Definitely pick the series up–it starts slow, but it’s all worth it in the end.
2. Aliette de Bodard’s On a Red Station, Drifting: according to the writer, it was originally supposed to be Dreams of the Red Chamber IN SPACE, but turned out way different. This is about two women: the administrator of a space station, and her distant cousin, a fugitive magistrate. I’m usually not one for sci-fi, but de Bodard has a wonderful writing style, and it’s refreshing to see a universe that is 100% PoC in this genre.
3. David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas: I didn’t like the film for obvious reasons, but the book itself is a different animal–lush writing seamlessly blending from one genre to the next. This guy is my writing god, hands down.
4. Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale: again, wonderful writing, with a ghost story at the core, but not in the way you’d think. This is the type of book you’ll want to read again to see if you can catch the clues, but it’s also got great turns of phrase and gorgeous prose all around.
5. Anything by Ken Liu–no books out yet, but he’s got short stories galore. “Paper Menagerie” is a poignant illustration of growing up Asian in the US, and “Good Hunting” brings together Chinese mythology and steampunk in turn-of-the-century Hong Kong.
Limiting things to five books is super painful, I have to say.
The Thirteenth Tale! I was actually going to write another comment to add that one. It really sneaks up on you.. I picked it up on a whim, and at first it seemed like a relatively ordinary mystery, but for some reason it has really stuck with me. Something about the relationship between the characters. Also, given that it’s about a novelist and the bookworm writing her life story, it greatly appeals to the literary nerd in me.
For Readers of Graphic Novels and Alternative Comics:
1. “Black Hole” by Charles Burns. His immaculate drawing style complements his tale of a sexually transmitted disease that turns 1970’s teenagers into mutants. Part schlock, but with many concepts and themes that run far deeper. Charles Burn’s work is always great and visually beautiful and disturbing.
2. “Fun Home” and “Are You My Mother ?” by Alison Bechdel. “Fun Home” is her autobiography that deals with her father, who died suddenly in his early 40’s, and Alison’s discovery that he was a closeted gay man. “Are You My Mother ?” is about Alison’s relationship with her mother, but also the experience of doing therapy for many years. Her writing runs very deep, and her clear, painstaking drawing style helps to bring these stories to life(note the carefully hand drawn replication of handwritten letters from her parents !). Read “Fun Home” first.
3. “100 Demons” by Lynda Barry. Short stories illustrated in her inimitable messy, joyful style. They are short, but way deep. From a story about adopting a troubled shelter dog, to dropping acid as a teenager with a boy from the different side of the tracks, to getting lice, Lynda Barry makes the mundane searing. Joyful, funny, tearjerking and honest.
4. “Need More Love” by Aline Kominsky-Crumb. This is sort of an auto-biography, sort of a greatest hits compilation. Aline Kominsky (who later married Robert Crumb) began drawing alternative comics in the early 1970’s, and worked with other female comic artists to produce revolutionary women’s comics. Her drawing style often looks very awkward and unskilled, but she has an extremely sharp wit and sense of humour. Her autobiographical work was often groundbreaking, writing about previously taboo topics like masturbation, body image, promiscuity, pregnancy. I laughed a lot reading this.
5. “My Friend Dahmer” by Derf Backderf. I was resistant to this at first based on the drawing style not to mention content, but the true story of the author’s friendship through high school with serial killer Jeffry Dahmer is surprisingly well written and sensitive. Its autobiography is fleshed out with friend’s memories, sketchbook and yearbook pages, as well as interviews by the FBI with Dahmer after his arrest. I am not a fan of lurid serial killer books. His portrait of his friendship with Dahmer is one that is for the most part quite ordinary and dull, although there are some fractures and red flags around Dahmer’s teenaged psyche that no one heeded. The author was as shocked as anyone when Dahmer’s horrible crimes were discovered, many years after graduation. It neither glorifies or vilifies Dahmer. The tone of the book is sort of one of mild lingering regret – that no one saw anything that could have helped these crimes to have never happened, and the shock of having been this person’s friend. The book stayed with me for days after I read it. It looks simple and dumb, but it is complex and thoughtful.
ALL of Alison Bechdel’s stuff is brilliant. I miss the Dykes to Watch Out For serial. My then-girlfriend’s roommate introduced me and it was something I so needed at the time. And well, basically I *am* Sparrow (except my “Stuart” and I are actually married and we have two kids instead of one) so I like the validation, what can I say? 🙂
DTWOF! Best lesbian soap opera comic strip ever. I would like to believe I’m Ginger, but I’m probably Mo.
Agree with so many recommendations above, including Patricia C. Wrede (if you like Regency and epistolary, check out the Sorcery and Cecilia books), Connie Willis, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and Code Name Verity, which was EXCELLENT. Also, can we go ahead and assume The Tenant of Wildfell Hall has been recommended, since the protagonist is posting comments here? Haha.
Since there are a lot of fantasy fans here, I’d like to recommend Tales of MU (that’s a link to the very first chapter of the first volume), which is a web serial (also now available as ebooks) by Alexandra Erin. The main character is a freshman attending Magisterius University, which is located in a universe that is clearly based on D&D concepts. The world-building is intricate and the characters three-dimensional. The author is exploring real-world issues like various isms through a fantasy lens. (Just one example: per university rules, human students are addressed as Mr./Ms. Lastname, while non-human students are addressed as Mr./Miss Firstname. So if you’re female and non-human, you get racism AND sexism.) It should grab you within the first few chapters. If not, and you still want to give it a chance, try jumping straight to the second volume; the story has been going on for years and has definitely improved over time.
Content warnings on MU: abuse, especially in the early chapters [you can avoid this by skipping to the second volume], and lots of sexual content, esp. D/s, S&M, and vore. I make the latter a content warning not (only) because I’m vanilla but because the author is VERY explicit.
Mary Stewards Arthurian Saga is another favorite, really only the first 3 books, especially the fist book; The Crystal Cave
Have you read Gillian Bradshaw’s Hawk of May, Kingdom of Summer, In Winter’s Shadow? 1st one is hard to get into, just so stylistically different, but the other two are amazing and the POV completely shifts.
I haven’t read them, I’ll give it a go. thanks! I really wish my library had a bigger selection. It seems like any book I’m interested in is NOT on ebook or on the shelves.
“The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog” by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz. Perry is a child psychologist and it’s a series of case studies of children who lived through abuse, neglect, and trauma, and how they were helped to heal.
Obviously, a lot of the content is very disturbing, and many of the stories involve children who have gone through extremely traumatic or damaging things (sexual abuse, witnessing the murder of a parent and then being alone with the dead body, being raised in a dog kennel, etc). There’s also a lot of information about how things like extreme stress or fear or lack of human contact affect child development.
However, despite that, I didn’t find it to be as depressing or disturbing a book as that may sound, because most of the children were actually able to be helped significantly. So for me at least (i.e., it’s subjective), it was actually quite a hopeful book in the end.
Oh what a great great thread. This is precisely what I need right now, and I am already planning my library trip tomorrow.
1) Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. The whole series is pretty great, but this the best (and the one closest to my heart). It’s a mystery, sort of; but it’s mostly about a really smart, stubborn, wounded woman trying to reconcile romance with the life of the mind. A must read for academics, and for any woman who’s ever felt like she needed to be smaller, meeker, less intelligent, less threatening in order to be loved.
2) Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. So, caveats: a) so many trigger warnings (violence, abuse, tearing out your heart and stomping on it). b) I generally read 80-100 pages/hour and it took me a solid month to read this book. No joke. But if you’re up for something that will slowly break you into tiny pieces and then reassemble you, read this. It makes you glad to be alive even while you’re weeping.
3) The Once And Future King by T. H. White. The re-imagining of the King Arthur story that the Disney movie “The Sword in the Stone” is based on, but so much bigger than that. White’s handling of the Lancelot-Guinevere-Arthur triangle is gorgeous (and heartbreaking). Heroism and love and sin and how life is COMPLICATED. (I’m sensing a pattern.)
4) Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. This one made it immediately onto my “read every 6 months” list. Do you like Jane Austen? Do you like fantasy? Do you like historical fiction? Are you a feminist (though you don’t have to be)? This book will be like crack for you. The world is incredibly well imagined and laid out; the characters are three-dimensional, lovable, flawed people.
5) Lost Girls by Alan Moore. Dorothy (from Wizard of Oz), Alice (Alice in Wonderland), and Wendy (Peter Pan) meet as grown-ups in 1913 and tell each other their stories. And have sex. It’s porn, and it’s about storytelling, and particularly about women’s storytelling and women’s sexuality, and what the 19th century and the fin de siecle period meant. And sex. God, I love Alan Moore.
So an interesting thing about “The Once and Future King”, which I love! (because how many children’s books contain lessons on life told through evolution, geology, natural history and animals?)
The first-published version is “The Sword in the Stone,” which contains Madame Mim and a few other things (the snake, I think). “Sword” was initially intended to lead the series, but since it was light and funny and childish, and White decided he wanted to write a darker series for adults, he went back and rewrote it, and now there’s two books.
The rewritten version in “The Once and Future King” is the less-childish one. In this book White rewrote some of the episodes, deleted some and added others. This one has the ants and the geese, which are repeated word-for-word in the last book in the series. You get a picture of what White was trying to do. So it’s kind of cool to get both impressions – I recommend reading both, if you ever get the chance!
Cool, thanks! I’ve read both versions, but I didn’t know the history of it.
Oh yes! I read Once and Future King for school in 10th grade – devoured it in 3 days. I need to reread.
Lost Girls has a permanent place on my nightstand!
Oh! Gaudy Night! I read this, and it’s immediate sequel Busman’s Honeymoon, when I’m sad and they are the best books. If you ever feel like you are not worthy of love, or life or the kind of life you really want, these are books you must read. They are heartbreakingly beautiful and life-affirming, and at the same time two of the cleverest detective novels I’ve ever read. Sayers is a literary genius.
1) Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber. Love the book, loved the RPG (and used to run it!) and it was my first real fandom. This one holds a very special place in my heart and probably always will. And what can I say? “It is a pain in the ass waiting around for someone to try to kill you” = favorite opening line EVER.
2) Rosa Guy’s YA novels, especially Ruby. [Warning for graphic sexual harassment, child abuse, and racism and classism out the ears, though. Also, the way the same-sex relationship is handled in Ruby has some Unfortunate Implications that I don’t want to get into because spoilery.] I picked Ruby up on kind of a whim because it appeared from the cover to be a YA lesbian love story in a time when I didn’t see a whole lot of that. It gave me a lot more than that. If you are trying to “read more work by authors of color” DEFINITELY check Rosa Guy out, because her writing is BEAUTIFUL and I love her characterization.
3) Mira Kirshenbaum’s Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay. My go-to relationship advice recommend. It’s sad that I find myself rec’ing this as often as I do, but it fills a vital role. And from personal experience: it correctly told me to get the hell away from my Darth Vader ex (the “if God said it’s OK to leave, would you leave?” question just clicked and I sat in the middle of the bookstore with the tears running down realizing that was why I hadn’t left). Contrary to the book’s image of being biased-in-favor-of-leave, it also correctly told me ten years ago that my relationship with my now-spouse was worth saving when we had an epic horrible fight of horribleness that made me question whether I should be calling off our engagement and asking him to move out. (It wasn’t an affair, but it was a breaking of trust that left me angry at about the same level an affair would have, and while there was lots of hurt and upset all over the place, about a month after the blow-up we were already to the point of constructive dealing-with that supposedly is a good sign even if it takes about a year? That was worth saving!)
4) M.M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess. One of my favorite children’s books ever. Everything about it is adorable. 🙂
5) How to Be a Perfect Stranger, edited by Stuart Matlins and Arthur Magida. Basically, this is a guidebook to what to expect when attending services (including baby-welcoming, wedding, and funeral services) at faiths other than one’s own. The only thing that bugs me a little bit is that there is a lot of time spent on a variety of Christian denominations, while all of Judaism is stuck in one chapter, and there is somewhat less about non-Abrahamic faiths than I would have preferred. Still, it’s a really really awesome and useful book (and I even found it useful when I realized I no longer felt comfortable in my own faith community and wanted to seek elsewhere).
The Ordinary Princess!!! I adored that book as a kid. I was just talking about it the other day and wishing I could find it to read again.
If you still can’t find it, Mark Reads on youtube read it recently. It’s not him just reading it straight through – there’s a lot of his reactions and thoughts, it’s what he does – but it’s fun to watch someone who has no idea what’s going on read it for the first time.
I am still dealing with the withdrawal after reading the last of the Miles Vorkosigan series. The only thing that has come close to assuaging the symptoms is Jo Walton’s THE KING’S PEACE, which is a kind of reimagining of Arthurian legend in a very loose way with a female warrior in the center of the narrative. It has some triggers aspects in it, but I really enjoyed the character development, the imaginary historical document format, and the page-turner writing style.
After vorkosigan, my other go to recommendations are:
ARCHANGEL (and the whole Samaria series) by Sharon Shinn it is a sci fi fantasy hybrid and centers around nerd love and post apocalyptic settlements that lost their former abilities for space travel.
SHIP of MAGIC and the whole Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb – seafaring with ships that are alive plus an exploration of class and feminism in an engaging fantasy world. It’s another page turner.
HIS MAGESTY’S DRAGON by Naomi Novik (and the whole Temeraire series). Novik reimagined the Napoleonic Wars with dragons and people who ride them.
ON BASILISK STATION by David Weber (and the whole Honorverse). Pure pulpy space opera with a complicated captain at the center. It is a space version of CS Forester’s Horatio Hormblower.
And then there’s the book/series I feel like I can’t recommend anymore, because although an author’s religious views and/or politics don’t usually bother me or influence my opinion of his/her work, Orson Scort Card has crossed a line. He funded a huge chunk of the pro-proposition 8 push here in CA and has just gotten overly creepy with his desire to make sure that marriage is only the way he wants it to be. I loved THE SEVENTH SON and the entire Alvin Maker series, but now I am too grossed out by Card’s actions to recommend it. So sad.
Hmmm, looking at this list, I realize how much I like to lose myself in a series for months at a time. No wonder I am going through Vorkosigan withdrawal.
Illusions by Richard Bach.- I grew up in a very strict religious atmosphere, and this book helped me say to myself, “If it doesn’t make you happy, why are you doing it?” This book seems to have a different meaning to everyone who reads it.
The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey.- Very controversial, but I love the characters so much! Abbey was a crazy talented writer as well as an environmental activist.
Roald Dahl shaped my childhood. The BFG was the first chapter book that I ever read.
Diana Wynne Jones was probably the most talented storyteller that I can think of. I guess her books are technically for children, but I don’t care.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. When people ask me what living in Alaska is like, I tell them to read this book. There is a hint of magic that is never explained away, and I feel this is accurate, because sometimes I swear that the laws of physics don’t always apply up here.
The book I recommend most often and love most in all the world is actually five books in one: John McPhee’s ANNALS OF THE FORMER WORLD. It is the most glorious, comforting, mind-stretching and geek-delighting book if you are a person who loves geology and landforms and how places got that way and what the people who love those places are like. It won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, and comprises the books BASIN AND RANGE, IN SUSPECT TERRAIN, RISING FROM THE PLAINS, ASSEMBLING CALIFORNIA, all of which were previously published, plus CROSSING THE CRATON which was written to complete the set.
Here’s the quote a lot of people who love the book often give:
“If by some fiat I had to restrict all this writing to one sentence, this is the one I would choose: The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone. ”
Really, I’ve never read anything by McPhee that I didn’t like, and most of his stuff I love. This I love most of all.
I get more excited about books than almost anything else so this has drawn me out of a lengthy spell of lurking.
The Long Earth – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter (which now has a sequel which I have not yet read.) I like the central idea – that plans are released on the internet for a device which can be made with mundane household items and the flick of a switch will allow you to step to a parallel earth. The other earths are almost infinite and while the earths nearest our earth are similar, they become increasingly different with distance.
Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts – I re-read often and definitely have issues with parts of it but I also love the depth of character and the way things are presented as uncomplicated and gradually revealed to be more complex. Nothing is simple, everything is layered. It made me cry on a bus and I am not generally a person who weeps at books.
Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf – for many years I carried a copy everywhere.
Regeneration (trilogy) – Pat Barker – excellent, for all the reasons mentioned in earlier comments.
Not So Quiet – Helen Zenner Smith – I read this when I was 18 and have never been able to read it again in case I couldn’t find again whatever it was that made such a huge impression. Merciless and exhausting to read.
The Fault in Our Stars – John Green – so many feels! Also his other novels but this is the one I read most recently. I really don’t want to spoil it so all I’ll say is it’s narrated by 16 year old Hazel who has cancer and attends a support group where she meets Augustus and becomes close to him despite not wanting to be a “grenade” in anyone’s life. Funny, poignant, words fail me.
Maus – Art Spiegelman (favourite graphic novel) a re-telling of the author’s father’s experiences in Nazi Germany. I like the way it’s muddled, that the details of their life in America is all mixed up with the story as his father tells it.
I am also a devourer of non-fiction but I’ll keep it to my most recommended:
The Age of Wonder – Richard Holmes – a history of science and discovery in the Romantic era and each scientist, astronomer, ballooneer is a thread running through. Well written, engaging, often astonishing.
Enticed out of lengthy lurking by books! Damn I love books.
The Long Earth – Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter – brilliant. Plans for a simple, easy to make device are released anonymously on the internet (of course!). This simple, easy to make device allows the user to step from this earth to a parallel version. There are almost infinite versions of earth which you can step to, one at a time, the further you step from the original earth, the stranger and more alien the versions become.
Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts – not without its problems but I still re-read often. The depth of character was captivating and the way things are presented as simple and gradually explored in more detail was satisfying. I was very, very attached to many of the characters (not the main character, who is difficult at best). It made me cry on a bus and I am not typically a person who weeps at books.
Not So Quiet – Helen Zenner Smith – I read it when I was 18 and have never been able to again. Nominally it is about the relatively hidden work of women during world war I. It made an impact, the extent of which I don’t think I’ve discovered yet. Definitely research before you read as it requires all the content notes. Difficult and exhausting to read.
The Fault in Our Stars – John Green – so many feels! 16 year old Hazel, the narrator, meets Augustus at a cancer support group and things happen. No spoilers but it was an intense read, I blazed through it and immediately turned back to the beginning. His other novels are also excellent, particularly…actually just all of them.
The Golden Age of Wonder – Richard Holmes – I read an awful lot of non-fiction on virtually any topic imaginable but this is the one I recommend most often. A history of science and discovery in the Romantic era. I didn’t expect to but I really enjoyed the chapter on the invention of hot air balloons and the various interesting accidents that occurred during the process.
I read….a lot, but here are the few that I always come back to:
1. The Quantum Gravity series (5 books total) by Justina Robson. Sort of fantasy/sci fi techy cyberpunk with fairies and demons and elves and magic and technology. But mostly, a really amazing look at the nature of humanity, and what it means to be evil, and fighting on even when you’re the underdog. If you’re a Dresden fan, or a cyberpunk fan, you might enjoy these.
2. The Newsflesh Trilogy – Mira Grant. I hate zombie books. I picked these up because I had absolutely nothing else to read. By the end of the second one, I was absolutely furious that the third hadn’t been published yet. These aren’t books about zombies. They’re books about fear, and society, and control, centered around -amazing- characters who I sobbed over. They’re a call to action, and to not be afraid. I also recommend her October Daye series as Seanan McGuire if you’re into a girl fae version of Harry Dresden.
3. The Otherland Series – Tad Williams. Big books. If you don’t like wading through 400+ pages, times 4, skip it. But -fantastic- cyberpunk story, incorporating reality and fantasy, and old Egyptian gods.
4. Any of the Valdamar books – Mercedes Lackey. On the surface, your usual high fantasy sorta novels. But some of the most amazing characters that you’ll ever fall in love with, and I can attribute much of the person I grew to be to the morals and spirituality incorporated in her work. And hey, talking magic horses.
5. Cats Cradle and a Man Without A Country – Kurt Vonnegut. Reading Cats Cradle as a young kid was incredibly formative in “Question Everything. Take everything with a grain of salt.” A Man Without A Country is a heartbreaking commentary on the nature and state of America.
I want to second The Dresden Files by JIM BUTCHER. I’ve fallen away from reading like I used to (so sad) but Jim Butcher still draws me into the magical world of story.
Harry Dresden is a film noir style detective with an urban fantasy twist. The books are funny and silly and sad and feel very real to me despite the fantastic setting.
They are also fairly short and very easy reading. Which is good and bad!
I’m limiting my recs to authors nobody has mentioned yet. It’s the easiest way to pick five out of so many. 🙂
HARRIET THE SPY by Louise Fitzhugh. I enjoyed this very much as a kid, but didn’t fully appreciate it until I reread it as an adult and caught big things I missed, like why anyone would be so attached to a person like Ole Golly, or how questionable the Welsches’ parenting skills are. Fitzhugh was a master of avoiding authorial intrusion.
Veronica Roth’s DIVERGENT and INSURGENT. Well-fleshed-out female protagonist, fascinating dystopian world. Good YA reading for adults, particularly adults looking for their next adrenaline rush after THE HUNGER GAMES.
Anything by Nick Hornby, but particularly ABOUT A BOY. “Two people isn’t enough.”
Lisa Tucker’s THE SONG READER and SHOUT DOWN THE MOON, both which feature music prominently in their plots. I’ve liked all of Tucker’s novels, but her first two are the best.
THE GOD DELUSION by Richard Dawkins. It won’t convert a single believer to atheism, but it’s a gratifying preach-to-the-converted experience for those of us who are put off by the darker side of organized religion.
Enthusiastic cheering is permitted, right? Because I also love Harriet the Spy. (Another point in its favor is that it is good for reading out loud.)
I almost wish I had kids just so I could read them this book.
1) Gail Carriger — The Parasol Protectorate (first book: Soulless) and the prequel teen series Finishing School (first book: Etiquette & Espionage )
If I can recommend one book to ladies who love fantasy, it’s this one. There is just so much about it to love. Steampunk with werewolves and vampires (who are all very respected citizens, thank you very much). The main character is “soulless”–she nullifies other people’s supernatural power, and as such, finds herself as a Very Important Person who needs to do spying and the suchlike for Queen Victoria. There’s romance…and then there’s actually seeing a relationship with its ups and downs.
One of the most amazing things to me, though, is that it doesn’t feel the need to go heteronormative, even though people usually use the excuse of “Well, at the time period, people like ____ wouldn’t be around (so obviously).” The ensemble cast consists of, say, six characters. Two of them are straight. One of them is bisexual (UNICORN). And…it’s never a big deal. Sure, it’s a little shocking when our characters meet a lesbian, but that’s mostly because she’s in men’s clothing–but such nice clothing! But for the most part, these are just our characters, being people, and their gender preference is only an Issue when there’s some romance questions happening.
I’ve never read a fantasy book quite like this, where it felt natural and not either pandering or Meant To Shock. Plus, the books themselves are just charming.
And the prequel series is about a “Finishing School” for young ladies…learning how to…”finish” with grace and elegance. (Hint–it means assassinate.)
2) Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Always my favorite book series. Folks already explained it upthread. It’s good times.
3) Harpo Speaks — Harpo Marx’s autobiography. A fascinating life of a fascinating, funny, and kind man.
4) Hawkeye — Matt Fraction. It’s a comicbook. It’s good times. The art is perfect, the writing is sharp and funny and serious all at once. The women are real people. And Clint Barton just can’t win.
5) Bruce Coville. I don’t know that I’d “rec” him to an adult so much, because it’s all mostly kids and some teen books. But his alien stories had a huge impact on me as a child and used sci-fi and humor to make me more aware of humanity. He also wrote a series of books about a young girl and a land of unicorns that is exciting and daring and magical and not even a little bit “girly” (in the sense of people using “girly” to mean twee and something that only “silly girls” would like). His edited collections of short stories about horror, monsters, magic, ghosts, and aliens are treats. If I could only rec one short story, though, it would probably be “Am I Blue.”
If you enjoy the Parasol Protectorate (I did) the series have a sort of … soul ancestor? grandparent? inspiration source? in the Amelia Peabody novels by Elizabeth Peters – a spunky female archaeologist in Egypt in the early 1900s crashes around the pyramids, having thoughts about feminism and racism (but not many, to be fair) and has a wonderful, bickering, respectful relationship with her huge sexy ragey archaeologist husband and, eventually, her precocious, snotty and wonderfully funny archaeologist child. She whacks people with her specially designed parasol and is always getting kidnapped, tied up, fighting her way free and then rescuing her husband.
And there’s like 20 books in the series. Go for it.
I think Bruce Coville is AMAZING – he’s prolific, he’s never boring, always very equality oriented, and the imagination pouring out of all his different books astounds me. We are huge Magic Shop fans in this house, with affection for Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher from the kids and Skull of Truth topping my list.
I really enjoyed John Dies at the End and it’s sequel This Book is full of Spiders by David Wong. It’s stoner comedy meets the Cthulhu Mythos with some great moments of character development.
I also enjoyed The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. Fantasy assasains with a few good twists.
Delurking to add:
Neil Gaiman (of course!). Yay to Sandman, but American Gods & Neverwhere are my faves.
Octavia Butler–everything, although it’s not a “fun read”
Laurie King–A Darker Place
I came to her through the “Mary Russell/Sherlock” series, but this one completely stopped my breath. It’s about a Professor of Religion who sometimes goes undercover for the FBI to investigate religious cults. Strong female protagonist.
The Mistress of the Art of Death–Ariana Franklin
A female Jewish medieval pathologist sent to Cambridge to investigate the death of children. TW: sexism, racism, anti-semitism, and sexual violence
I’m gonna combine 2 authors/series under the heading of “My Shameful Guilty Secret” for my last rec. Makes my lezfem heart cringe, but here goes:
The Eve Dallas series (also called the “In Death” series cuz every title is “Something” in Death) by JD Robb (Nora Roberts)
The Jim Reacher series by Lee Child
The “In Death” series are set in the future NYC, and follow a NYPD Detective Eve Dallas & her millionaire, used-to-be-criminal uber-sexy, uber-smart husband Roarke. I have nothing whatsoever good to say about them & yet they are one of the few books that I will actually buy as a hardback. Don’t judge me.
The Jim Reacher series is about a former Army MP who’s drifiting around the US after leaving the Army who keeps finding himself in these weird situations that can basically only be solved/revenged by his incredible capacity for violence. I believe he kills at least one person in every novel. Sometimes several. (It is a testimony to Tom Cruise control over Hollywood that he played Reacher in a movie. Jack Reacher is 6′ 5″ & about 250 pounds. And his size is a key part of each & every novel).
Honorable mentions: I pretty much only read fantasy & mystery & only that written by women authors with a female protagonist. Check out Ilona Andrews, Tanarive Due, Jacqueline Carey, Lilith Saintcrow “Jill Kismet” series. Richelle Meade, Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, Charlaine Harris “Harper Connelly” series. Exceptions: Eoin Colfer (I heart Artemis), the Percy Jackson series, & the Jane Whitfield Series.
Thanks for all the great reccs! My list is getting waaaaay too long, but I’m excited to find new authors.
Little Bee (called The Other Hand outside of the US) is my current, since I read it 3 years ago, Favorite Book Of All Time. The publisher’s blurb about it is the best way to describe it, so I uncreatively just copy-pasted it for you all: “We don’t want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn’t. And it’s what happens afterward that is most important. Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.”
Everything Khaled Hosseini has ever written is magic. The Kite Runner is so painful but so real and, in the end, so beautiful.
Same with Toni Morrison. My two favorites are Jazz and The Bluest Eye. They’re not “easy reads,” you definitely have to pay attention because it doesn’t all make sense until the end. But when it’s all over and you can see the woven strands of story and thought: it’s breath-taking.
Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson is a hilarious and engaging book on the history and development of the English language.
I’m so sorry, I forgot content warnings! Pretty much everything except Bryson has a content warning for sexual assault. It’s pretty vicious in The Bluest Eye. The Kite Runner is not exactly graphic but very emotional (male on male, child victim and perpetrator). I think in Little Bee it’s just threatened/implied, though pretty strongly. I also think that Jazz actually doesn’t have any sexual assault, but please check google just in case I’m forgetting it.
I’ve been on a Britlit kick lately, so here’s some “British Fiction With Poetic And Funny Prose.” Yes, all white British authors firmly within the Establishment, I’m sorry.
1. WEST WITH THE NIGHT by Beryl Markham. First off, a huge CONTENT NOTE for colonialism/”benevolent” racism, although reading it in this blatant form will help certain readers to appreciate how those attitudes inform today’s culture. This is the story of a child growing up into an adult in Kenya, beautifully woven and full of glimmering prose and thoughts on life, between being mauled by lions and killing wild animals with bare hands and navigating trackless wastes and daring greatly and so on. This is the sort of adventure/travel book that usually gets written by men for men, but it is the account of Markham’s life: bush pilot, racehorse trainer, adventurer. Ernest Hemingway, a massive dick, wrote:
“Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, West With The Night? …She has written so well, and marvellously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade bitch, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers … it really is a bloody wonderful book.”
You’re a dick, Hemingway. Anyway, this book is quite obscure, though it’s occasionally “rediscovered” by people who claim it as “feminist,” although it really isn’t (see above: really freaking colonialist, also, practically no other women, black or white, besides Markham) but it’s another nail in the coffin of the argument that Women Weren’t There, that women weren’t “really” adventurers and explorers and rescuers and pilots in the early 1900s. Beryl Markham gives zero fucks. Beryl Markham is gorgeous and scarred. And she can write rings around Hemingway.
2. NARROW DOG TO CARCASSONNE by Terry Darlington. For obvious reasons I am into English narrowboats these days. Terry Darlington, a grumpy old British guy, wrote a book about how he and his wife and his whippet took their 60-foot narrowboat across the English Channel and crashed around in France. The prose style is poetic and highly unusual – he doesn’t use quote symbols – and may be inaccessible, but it probably isn’t the sort of thing you usually read, and it’s oddly appealing to me. People who like Bill Bryson and Dorothy Sayers (grumpy, full of random poetry lines/references that you can pick out, lots of musings about England) might find themselves weirdly attracted to it. And you can also give it to your dad. First in a trilogy and undoubtedly the best.
3. THE DARLING BUDS OF MAY by H. E. Bates. So here’s a working-class, uninhibited family with an extremely fat mother, an awful lot of children, a yard full of junk, teen pregnancy, really open attitudes towards sex/marriage, an adoration of the television; they drink too much, eat too much, and have very little taste; they dodge their taxes and work at random. It’s the 1950’s in England. What is this story going to be about?
If you thought “judgment and censure, because how dare they be lower-class with BODIES and THINGS” then you’re wrong.
The Darling Buds of May isn’t progressive (see above: 1950’s, England) but it’s sweet and gentle. The Larkin family gives zero fucks about everything, and they live in paradise, and they are happy and loving, and that’s pretty much it? Like, the entire book is about how they try to have good lives and make their neighbor’s lives better and throw parties. Ma, who is described as being quite fat, is constantly described in admiring terms, and Pop can’t get enough of her. I LOVE this. In any other narrative, the Larkins would be portrayed as the filthy and degraded butts of jokes, but here they shine. Don’t bother reading the rest of the series – particularly not book 3. Just enjoy the quiet golden bubble of this book.
4. THE TIFFANY ACHING SERIES by Terry Pratchett does NOT get enough love. They’re considered children’s books, but they’re really not. They really need to be set apart and considered independently of Discworld. The latest book in particular was just incredible – a teenage girl collecting and asserting her authority, picking the right partner, navigating FEELINGS, leading a community, understanding and learning about her strength, handling responsibilities, miscarriages – oh my god why can’t we just talk about Tiffany Aching? I love her so much more than anything else Pratchett has written, and I really love Pratchett.
Yay Tiffany Aching!
A friend recently asked me for book recommendations for his 11 year old daughter… I wish they’d been around when I was that age!
I’m putting Tiffany Aching on my list. Have you read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry? I’m not sure if it’s poetic, but it is funny, and I dare you not to cry!
more delurking for BOOKS!
1. Terry Pratchett. I have them all (almost) in hardback, because the paperbacks do not withstand the number of times I reread them.
2. I adore the Phryne Fisher mysteries by Kerry Greenwood, in no small part because (IMO, obviously) when there’s sex, it’s from a purely feminine perspective. There’s no male observer? It took me a while to catch what was different …. Corinne is also fun, and refreshing, and not so Teddibly Perfect as Phryne, but, I don’t know, Phryne just cracks me up.
3. Philip Pullman. I can’t decide between _His Dark Materials_ and the stuff for younger readers; I particularly like _Count Karlstein_ and _I Was A Rat_ because they deal with how the truth may look different to different observers.
4. Gotta second Laurie R. King, who can be (VERY!) hard on her protagonists, but then she writes protagonists strong enough to handle it.
5. Jeff Smith, the _Bone_ series of graphic novels. I got them signed by him, which was also when I discovered that they are now apparently considered YA lit? (Apparently he’s also surprised.) “Stupid, stupid rat creatures!”
1. Tamora Pierce’s “Circle of Magic” series. I know, I know, I am totally the millionth person to rec her, but this is pretty much the #1 HAVE YOU READ… recommendation I give people and also my favourite platonic happy funtimes series. These are the books I curl up with when life is getting me down and I want books that are basically the literary equivalent of hot chocolate with lots and lots of marshmallows and whipped cream. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t serious stuff in here, but the message is all about the power of friendship and chosen family and the like and there are so many amazing characters of colour and there are awesome queer characters and it always manages to warm me up from within.
2. Ben Aaronovitch’s “Rivers of London” series. Which I also know has been recced already, but these are some of my recent favourites. Peter is just such an amazing character with his internal monologue and tendency to distraction and attempts to do SCIENCE to magic and the way he carries his culture with him and his wry comments about racism and classism without it coming across as too heavy-handed, Lesley keeps going “I am too awesome for your stereotypes and expectations I’m going to do my thing”, the world is so well-written and well-designed and you can basically *feel* London wafting off the pages. Also, as someone who’s doing a PhD in a STEM area right now, it is so refreshing to have an urban fantasy world where the scientific method is written as applying to magic as well and it’s not like science and magic are in opposition. (Isaac Newton developed their theory of magic, how awesome is that.)
3. Alexander McCall Smith’s “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series. This is another hot chocolate book for me. I mean, it’s also really amazing to read a book where the main characters are African women living in Africa (Botswana), but what brings it to my top series ever is the way all the characters are treated with this underlying kindness and sympathy. Mma Ramotswe is the major influence here, of course, and I kind of wish I could be more like her sometimes. I mean, the world depicted isn’t all roses, there’s poverty and AIDS and death and abuse… but at the same time, there’s this love for humanity at the base of the writing. /o\ Ugh, I always feel really ridiculous when I talk about this, but just know that these are some of my very favourite books and for me reading them is a little like getting a full-body hug.
(Content warning for Mma Ramotswe’s abusive ex-husband – he doesn’t appear in most (any?) of the books, but he is mentioned.)
4. Diana Wynne Jones’ “Howl’s Moving Castle” series. Really, everything Diana Wynne Jones has ever written, but HMC gets a special mention for SOPHIE. Her and Howl’s relationship is a real breath of fresh air, and Sophie is such an amazing strong character who does her own thing.
5. Astrid Lindgren’s “Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter”. Because if I did not recommend Astrid Lindgren I would have to hand in my books and stop reading. I grew up on Lindgren, and Ronia especially sticks in my mind as an absolutely amazing story.
Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter is SO good. I loved it particularly for the way that it explored the power dynamics between adults and children in a really surprising, challenging way.
Just a note to enthusiastically second “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” series. A sweet, enjoyable depiction of everyday life in Botswana with characters you’d like to sit down and have a cup of bush tea with. I’ve been meaning to put the TV series in my Netflix queue as well. (Re trigger concerns, as I recall, Mma Ramotswe’s a-hole ex-husband DOES pop up in one of the books — I believe it is “In the Company of Cheerful Ladies” — to attempt to mess with her life, but the way she handles that is sensitively and movingly dealt with.)
aaaarrrrggghhh! How could I forget Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston? I used to have a summer ritual that consisted of TEWWG & The first 3 Anne Rice Vampire bookd (strange combo I know) that lasted for about 5 or 6 years,
The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle – I haven’t read anything of his I didn’t like, but that and A Fine and Private Place are probably my favorites. The first is a pretty amazing fantasy story (there is also a movie, which I love, but YMMV). The latter is sort of realistic fantasy, reminds me of some of Neil Gaiman’s stuff.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley – (Content Note: rape) – Not perfect, but a fun and fascinating retelling of the King Author legend from the women’s perspectives.
Libromancer & Codex Born (and everything else he’s written) by Jim C. Hines – (Content note: exploration of consent issues that may be triggering) the magic system in this present day fantasy is great for book lovers and there is a poly relationship represented as well, moreso in the second book. Two more books are coming out at least after these two, fair warning!
Red Shirts by John Scalzi – if you like Star Trek or any sci-fi at all read this, starts out hilarious and then goes to an even more interesting place
The Young Wizards Series by Diane Duane (she also writes great Star Trek books too) – I haven’t read the last two (yet), but the rest are a very interesting good vs. evil present day magic with a female main character
The first book I recommend to everyone and anyone when asked is Good Night, Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian. It’s a tale of chosen family, overcoming abuse, and growing as a person. (Content warnings: child abuse, PTSD, some anti-Semitism.)
Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini made my cry the way no other book has never made me cry before. (Content warnings: sexual assault, suicide, depression, mental illness, some violence)
The Madness of a Seduced Woman by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer did NOT make me cry, but on a personal level as someone who had been burned by her obsession, it was incredibly cathartic. (Content warnings: violence, mental illness, description of a home abortion).
I’m fond of graphic novels and manga, so I’m recommending Black Jack and Buddha, both by Tezuka Osamu and available through Vertical Inc. BJ is the tale of a mysterious, crabby genius surgeon, and you can pretty much pick it up at any point in the run without being too lost; Buddha is Tezuka’s chronicle of the life of Siddhartha Gautama with some VERY fictional elements thrown in. Both are enjoyable reads in general.
To round off the post I’m throwing in Saint Young Men by Nakamura Hikaru. You can find some chapters translated online, but as the author has stated herself they have no intention of adapting it beyond Japan(ese), you’ll just have to trust me when I say the adventures of Jesus and Buddha sharing an apartment and exploring modern Earth is one of the funniest things I’ve read in recent memory. (It’s humour mixed with Christian/Buddhist/Japanese triviae, but that combination may certainly not be for everyone.)
So many of my fave fiction authors have already been mentioned that I’m going to tell you my favorite cookbooks to read in bed. Yes, I read cookbooks in bed.
An Everlasting Meal is the best book on cooking I’ve ever read. I’m a hardcore, from-scratch cook, but I think everyone will also enjoy this book. In fact I would go so far as to say that anyone who eats food should read this book.
America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution is awesome because there is little better than doing fifteen minutes of prep before leaving the house and coming home to a completely finished meal!
The King Arthur Flour Cookie Cookbook has TWENTY FOUR oatmeal cookie recipes. And will tell you how to make your own thin mints and samoas.
How to Cook a Wolf is useful as a reminder that we haven’t always had such plenty in our world. Also, MFK Fisher is a goddess among women and I adore her prose. (Anything she wrote is really worthy of your time.)
Anything by Crescent Dragonwagon, but especially her Soup and Bread book. Man cannot live on bread alone, but add in a nice chicken and veggie soup and you’re all set. Also, her name is Crescent Dragonwagon.
For Darkness Shows the Starts by Diana Peterfreund. There is a companion short story which last I checked was free in e-book format. It’s a retelling of a Jane Austen story (Sense and Sensibility, I think) in a very different setting – why choose between amazing world building, a gripping story, and strong, realistic characters when you can have it all? I am also a fan of her “Killer Unicorn” books which are about a group of women descended from the unicorn hunters of the middle ages who are confronted with a modern day outbreak of killer unicorns. That is a tough one to sell people on given the premise but it sure aces the Bechdel Test and the female characters are not carbon copies by any stretch!
The Behemoth trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. It’s a steampunk novel set during (an alternate) WWI and features the same major instigating plot as Mulan. Like my previous choice it has both characters, story and a unique world that is well developed.
The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. I first read this after reading a Stephen King recommendation in Entertainment Weekly. The recommendation was for people waiting for the next Game of Thrones novel. The opening chapter of the first book can be trigger-y. I think it is one of the most artfully constructed epic fantasy trilogies where each book can stand on its own but the story continues to build on itself.
I second the Mistborn recommendation SO hard. Also Elantris by the same author – it’s an interesting fantasy setting with some great characters.
The Jane Austen book is Persuasion, and it’s a really interesting interpretation. I heard she’s doing The Scarlet Pimpernel next.
Love Mistborn. Love Elantris. Especially love Warbreaker. The man can write.
So many things I’d recommend have already been mentioned, so I’ll add a few that I haven’t seen so far:
WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams – Yes, it’s ostensibly about a group of rabbits looking for a place to make a new home. But it’s so SO much more.
THE GRASS HARP by Truman Capote – I’m of the belief that Capote is the most talented American writer of the 20th century, but that’s just me. The Grass Harp isn’t as popular as Breakfast At Tiffany’s (which I also love, and do not even mention the movie, which I like to pretend doesn’t exist in this world, to me) or In Cold Blood, both of which he’s far more famous for. But The Grass Harp has some of the most beautifully crafted language I’ve ever read, and the themes of family and identity really touched me.
SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS by Marisha Pessl – An absolutely amazing novel, notwithstanding the fact that it’s Pessl’s debut effort. Has some structure and themes in common with Tartt’s The Secret History, but stands solidly alone on its own merits. Couldn’t put it down. Pessl’s second novel, Night Film, has also just been released and is similarly engaging.
LIFE OF PI by Yann Martel – even me, a hard atheist, was fascinated by the denouement. Beautifully told.
THE STAND by Stephen King – I know this one was mentioned before, but I just thought I’d say that I spent most of one entire year reading all of the classics of post-apocalyptic fiction (Alas, Babylon, Canticles of Liebowitz, etc.) and I still come back to The Stand as the best, over and over. I don’t know how many times I’ve read this (the 1200 page unabridged version, even), but I can literally pick this book up, flop it open at any point and start reading. I know ever character like they’re my own family. Absolutely amazing.
Watership Down! I’ve been too scared to watch any of the film/tv versions because I love that book!
I’m so glad I read this far down! Secret Topics in Calamity Physics was just SO much fun. Precocious, bookish, witty young female protagonist. Clever style. Clever story. Lovely.
1. “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)” I don’t read much non fiction but I found this book to be really helpful in understanding how people work. It explores how people react to being wrong, and why being proved wrong doesn’t always change the course people will take. Much of the book focuses on how this affects public policy and the legal arenas, but there is also a chapter on relationships. After reading this book I see it EVERYWHERE.
2. The Kate Daniel’s Series by Illona Andrews Fantasy set in post apocalypticish Atlanta where magic is re surging and making technology malfunction. Not exactly erudite, but exciting and fun, and I find the world they’ve created very interesting. And their take on vampires is very refreshing.
3. The Kingkiller Chronicles – (The Name of the Wind is the first book) The prose in these books makes me feel like I can barely compose a single sentence adequately. It is brilliantly written. A bit of an anti-hero story.
4. The Rook – This book has an interesting premise, the heroine has lost her memory completely, and is trying to relearn her life so she can find out who tried and is trying to kill her. It’s also magical realism. Very suspensful and fun.
5. Anything by Neal Stephenson except the baroque cycle. I recommend starting with Snow Crash, while not his best, if you don’t like it, you’re prooobably not going to like any of his other books. (If anyone finishes Anathem, call me because I long to discuss this book with someone.)
I really enjoy the Kate Daniels books! Fluff, yes, but fun and great female characters and, as you say, interesting take on vampires. Trigger warnings abound for violence and some pretty grisly descriptions of rape. On the plus side, I never got the impression that shit was supposed to be titillating.
Oh, oh, oh, I am so excited by this thread. I am de-lurking (un-lurking?) to say that I think this thread will be the reason that everyone gets a book for Christmas this year!
1) Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. The plot timeline is not linear, which makes things interesting and feel a touch magical, but the plot almost doesn’t matter, because the prose is lyrical and the characters crawl right into your heart and sit there quietly.
2) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer is a quiet book that is a little sad, a little funny and a little romantic. I read it when I’m stressed or sad, because it feels like crawling into a blanket fort on a cold day.
There are 3 books I always recommend by the same author: ZODIAC, DIAMOND AGE and SNOW CRASH by Neal Stephenson.
ZODIAC is a cool who-dun-it where the crime is environmental devastation. Some graphic descriptions of dead wildlife and other gross biological/chemical stuff, but very interesting none-the-less.
DIAMOND AGE defies a lot of classification, being a sci-fi novel about nano-technology. It talks about cultural identity/psychology, historical cycles, education, relationships across digital mediums, and so much more. It has a couple very uncomfortable moments re: rape and child abuse, but the book does well otherwise.
SNOW CRASH is a cyberpunk novel that makes fun of cyberpunk, with a protagonist named Hiro Protagonist. How can you go wrong?
Neal Stephenson fans must read Anathem! So. Awesome. Replaced Snow Crash as my favourite Stephenson novel.
Can I just say how much I love this thread? I just added about 15 books to my “Hold” queue at the local public library thanks to y’all !
Ok, so a few of the ones that I turn to like comfort food:
THE FACE IN THE FROST by John Bellairs–no trigger warnings needed, unless you have phobias about bugs or things that go Bump in the night. Two elderly sorcerers are caught in a quest to stop a former colleague from destroying the world as they know it. Clever and so witty, not to mention occasionally morbid & creepifying. So, so good!
IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELLER by Italo Calvino. So hard to describe this one. So I did a cut & paste from Amazon, but this doesn’t even begin to describe it. ”
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler turns out to be not one novel but ten, each with a different plot, style, ambience, and author, and each interrupted at a moment of suspense. Together they form a labyrinth of literatures, known and unknown, alive and extinct, through which two readers, a male and a female, pursue both the story lines that intrigue them and one another.”
Oh, god, YES, to Into The Woods and The Likeness. Yes, yes, yes!
Other books that I would recommend:
1. The Accidental Tourist, by Anne Tyler. An amazing book about how a person who thinks he’s one kind of person discovers that he is another kind of person altogether. The movie is also good. (TW: death of a child)
2. Suspicious River, by Laura Kasischke. This whole book is a trigger warning for sexual abuse but it is so amazing and beautifully written.
3. Everything pre-It by Stephen King, especially Different Seasons, the collection of novellas that included “Shawshank Redemption” “Apt Pupil” and “The Body” all of which were made into amazing films. Standard Stephen King trigger warnings, including sexual assault, significant violence, and death of a child.
4. “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again,” by David Foster Wallace. I adore Infinite Jest, but I’m not going to recommend IJ to *anyone* because that is ridiculous. But this collection of essays is a great intro into DFW and his lucid and funny style.
5. “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke. A classic Victorian novel written as if magic were real. Deeply imagined, beautifully written…just perfect. PERFECT.* (*Assuming that your idea of perfection includes classic Victorian novels. YMMV.)
Now I’m off to read everyone else’s recs!
THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST was the first book I ever read of Anne Tyler’s. My all-time favorite is BACK WHEN WE WERE GROWNUPS. It’s about reflecting on life choices, wishing for do-overs, and consequences thereof. It has one of the best closing lines I’ve read in a novel.
Two to add (apologies if I missed these previously listed):
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. Half very personal memoir about her search for the family of this woman whose cancer cells revolutionized medical research (they did not get their due for far too long), half very well reported history of the field and exploring the question of who owns cells and DNA (the patients or the medical institutions that treat them?), who should profit, etc. Trigger warning, there are some discussions of sexual and physical abuse and a main character, Henrietta’s daughter, experiences some post-traumatic stress that is tough to read about.
“Half-Broke Horses” by Jeannette Walls. If you read and loved “The Glass Castle,” this is basically the prequel. Walls in effect novelized her grandmother’s life, taking what she’d been told directly by her grandmother and later by her mother, and then filling in the blanks. Said life was a pretty badass one — growing up on ranches in Texas and New Mexico, riding across Arizona by herself to take her first teaching job as a teenager during World War I, etc. If you want a strong, take-no-guff female character, here she is.
“The Immortal Life…” is AMAZING, and it came from such a lovely place: Rebecca Skloot is brilliant, a fantastic writer with a deep appreciation for both biological science and people. She first became interested in HeLa cells (the FIRST human cell lines to be cultured in a lab) after reading an aside in a biology text, and she spent TEN YEARS researching Henrietta and her family for the book. The book is incredibly fair to all parties involved, which was a very hard line to walk– the way that the Lack’s family and Henrietta herself were treated by the medical establishment will make you sick, so explaining that anything valuable came of that is difficult to do without excusing the initial acts. But Skloot has a deep understanding of the history of biomedical ethics and the research culture that those actions grew out of, and she has compassion for those involved while also not letting anyone off the hook. I started reading Skloot’s science blog a few years before the book was ready, so I had been anticipating it for AGES by the time I got to read it, and it still completely blew me away.
It’s important to mention, too, that Skloot has not stopped her efforts to care for the Lacks family or the larger debate around biomedical ethics since the book came out. She’s been tirelessly touring and speaking for years, has created a fund for the Lack’s family, and has helped facilitate further [fair, open, non-traumatizing] communication between the family and scientists who still work with HeLa cells today.
The books I rec tend to change a lot. At the moment I’m still thrilled with these:
1. Guy Gavriel Kay. I love all his books but “Under Heaven” and “River of Stars” (the most recent 2) are amazing. The series is a semi fantasy take set in Chinese influenced backdrops, if you like Game of Thrones (but with less rape, better politicking and better female character) check them out.
2. Iain Pears. “An instance of the fingerpost”. I have a soft spot for this era of English history and this is one of the cleverest thrillers ever written. He tells the same story four times from four different points of view and each one reveals more of what was really going on.
3. Kurt Vonnegut. “Slaughterhouse 5.” I reread this every few years, every time the way he uses language blows me away.
4. Diana Wynne Jones. “Howl’s Moving Castle”. If you haven’t read it, this is a YA book – the heroine is a girl magically transformed into an old woman and the hero is a vain magician who loves hair dye.
5. F Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby. Was inspired to read this because I wanted to read the book before seeing the film, it’s great.
Taking a break from the moving madness to make my first comment on my girlfriend’s blog:
1. CATCH 22 by Joseph Heller–My favorite book. So bleak. So hilarious. Too much of my formative (and post-formative) years were spent wondering what Yossarian would do in a situation. Joseph Heller’s Snowden spilled his secret 50 years before Edward spilt his many secrets. Reading this book about the horror, futility and madness of even a “good war” at 15 probably kept me from joining Marine Corps at 18.
The book has VERY misogynistic passages reflecting the chauvinism of its time.
2. MASTER AND COMMANDER aka AUBREY/MATURIN NOVELS series by Patrick O’brian–Jane Austen meets Horatio Hornblower. The greatest bromance in 20th Century letters. I read all 20 in about 2 1/2 months.
2a. “A Sea of Words: A Lexicon and Companion to the Complete Seafaring Tales of Patrick O’Brian” is all but required reading to help suss out the many undefined nautical terms and Regency Era colloquialism.
2b. The cookbook: “Lobscouse and Spotted Dog: Which It’s a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels” by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman, Lisa Grossman Thomas and Patrick O’Brian–Not required, but recommended as it is a delight to read. Caveat about the cookbook: DO NOT TRY THE “MILLERS IN ONION SAUCE” recipe unless you are the most adventurous of eaters.
3. CORDELIA’S HONOR and the rest of THE VORKOSIGAN SAGA by Lois McMaster Bujold–The Captain got me hooked on these, and I can only say THANK YOU! Love, love, love.
4. GUNS, GERMS, AND STEEL, THE THIRD CHIMPANZEE, COLLAPSE by Jared Diamond–No author has so influenced my worldview in the last 10 years.
5. BUMP IN THE NIGHT by Michael Johnson–*FULL DISCLOSURE* This book was written by my best friend. That said: he is a supremely talented writer (he’s not my best friend by accident). It is a Horror Fantasy book that is genuinely terrifying in all the right ways. The book is written for younger readers, and this is the highest compliment I can give it: it in no way condescends to its intended younger audience. There are no punches pulled and there is genuine evil and malice that even the youngest of characters (an infant) are subjected to. The young characters in the book (even the infant) are fully drawn and compelling to read about. The fantasy world is richly detailed and fully realized. The monsters and baddies are truly bad, and the good guys are imperfect and fallible and human. This book is also hilarious. Truly.
Available for free podcast, read by the author at quixoticenterprises.com,
More importantly, it is available for kindle and print on demand at very reasonable prices on Amazon.
Totally seconding Jared Diamond! I recommend Guns, Germs, and Steel and his book Collapse outrageously frequently. His works are seminal in my life, and I find that the layers of implications they hold is something I find myself connecting to many disparate topics.
And yay for Catch-22! I adored that book all through high school and tried to get all my friends hooked on it too.
Love this thread!
Colony by Anne Rivers Siddons- my favourite ‘beach read’ type of book, a southern woman marries into a wealthy New England family, it covers most of her life over summers spent at their vacation colony in Maine
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters- can’t describe it well without spoilers, but a very fun read and set in Victorian London-pickpockets, lesbian romance, pornography, a madhouse, a baby farmer and more
another vote for Diana Gabadon’s Outlander series, I am geeking out over it becoming a series on Starz!
What a great thread – I think my Goodreads “to-read” list has exploded with wonderfulness.
A few that I always recommend:
“Hector and the Search for Happiness” by Francois Lelord. A psychologist takes a working holiday to learn everything he can about happiness.
“The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley. King Arthur told through the women in the story. Plenty of conflict and character development.
“A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters” by Julian Barnes. Love his style – 10 short stories and a delightful first-person ramble about love.
“Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Funny, even twenty-plus years later.
“A Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein. A man, raised on Mars, is brought to Earth with a very different perspective on love and reason.
1. Little, Big by John Crowley — Dreamy, convoluted fantasy about a family’s tangled relationship with the fairy world.
2. The Secret History by Donna Tartt — College students learn what happens when they play around with ancient gods. Very suspenseful.
3. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke — Victorian-era fantasy about an alternate England in which magic is brought back by two magicians, who find that perhaps they are only acting as cat’s-paws for much larger forces.
4. Possession by A.S. Byatt — Two literature scholars work together to uncover deep secrets about two Victorian-era poets. Sounds boring but it’s actually an amazing page-turner and a wonderful romance.
5. The TIme Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger — A couple copes with the fact that the man comes loose in time and is transported to scenes from their past and future at random. One of the things I like best about this novel is how it portrays neighborhoods in Chicago that I’m familiar with.
Possession! Oh my god. I think you have to be a very specific person to love this book, but if you are into Victorian literature or literary scholarship, it is just divine. I love this book so much. It was made into a movie with Aaron Eckhart and Gwyneth Paltrow, 0/5 terrible do not watch, but the book is amazing. The only caveat I can think to give is that the novel has been criticized for being very, very white, which is an accurate criticism.
Delurking just for this, and only because I can’t believe it hasn’t been mentioned yet.
Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal – By Christopher Moore.
It is my absolute favorite book. It’s a retelling of the Christ story by his best friend who was actually there for the whole 33 years, mostly focusing on the “missing 20 years” between the temple and Jesus’ reappearance as an adult. The twist is that Biff is practically an atheist and a complete heathen, though his is fiercely loyal to his best friend Jesus. This story is part comedy & part fantasy (there are actual dragons) & part heart-breaking tragedy (since we all know how it has to end). What I love most is that Moore manages to be stupendously irreverent without being sacrilegious. Despite the violence, mysticism, sex, and general chaos, Jesus still comes out as a compassionate, sinless guy getting ready to die to save everyone else. The result is a surprisingly profound fictional account of how some Jewish kid grew up be the son of God…despite the fact that his best friend is a complete bastard who has never met a prostitute he didn’t screw.
Recommended for any fans of sci-fi, fantasy, summer reads, Douglas Adams-type stories, the occasional fart joke, or religious history. The book is funnier the more familiar you are with the new testament, but that’s not necessary. Content note for some racism, cartoonish violence, and sexual situations.
Omg, /Lamb/. I haven’t read that book in years, but now plan to pick it up the moment I get home. It’s my favourite of Moore’s books (though I have yet to read /Sacre Bleu/).
The Love We Share Without Knowing: Chris Barzak
The Ridge: Michael Koryta
They aren’t the most well known authors, but both are some of the best reading I’ve done in years! (I read at least 50 books a year to put that in perspective.) Absolutely adore both books and other books by both authors!
1. Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
A man’s struggle with what he considers his fractured, broken soul can be read on several levels and is, in my opinion, timeless.
2. Celluloid by Dave McKean
No words, just pictures. Bizarre, exciting, beautiful erotica.
I don’t have a whole list to recommend, most of my favorites already having been rec’d, but HOW has no one brought up Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms books? Yes, they’re basically marketed as romance novels, but they’re ALSO humorous retellings and mixings-up of fairy tails and legends, with well-written and strong female protagonists (always) AND villains (frequently) who kick ass and take names. And they’re by Mercedes Lackey! For delightful, fluffy, woman-power fantasy books, you really can’t do better, imho.
Content note that there is some sexual harassment/attempted rape in The Fairy Godmother (first book in series, though they don’t really need to be read in order to make sense), but that that harasser is taught the error of his ways.
Almost everything I read these days is turgid, difficult, inaccessible non-fiction. So I’m going to recommend the least turgid and inaccessible of my favorite books.
1. Lawvere and Schanuel, Conceptual Mathematics: A First Introduction to Category Theory. If you’re willing and able to read slowly and carefully and look up various concepts on the internet as you go along, this is a very readable (accessible even to high school students… or so the book claims, YMMV) introduction to an area at the forefront of modern math.
2. Chen. The Old New Thing. Adapted from a blog by a Microsoft developer, this book is actually a funny and interesting overview of the historical quirks in the development of the Windows operating system family. If you’ve ever wondered exactly *why* Windows is designed the way it is, Chen might have your answer. It’s mostly accessible to non-programming audiences, but that said, it does veer into explicit analysis of code in a few chapters.
3. Campbell. Historical Linguistics: An Introduction. Covers both the content and methods of historical linguistics; remarkably non-Eurocentric in its approach compared to many of the other introductory historical linguistics works out there.
4. Shubin. Your Inner Fish. Great intro to developmental biology for the layperson. Content warning for a full-page picture of a horrifying cyclops goat (or possibly a sheep; I was too startled to remember) in the early chapters though.
5. Machiavelli. Discourses on Livy. In which Machiavellli (yes, that one) defends democracy, especially in the model of the Roman Republic. Maybe not so relevant to modern political theory (I’d assume, but I’m not a political theorist), but a good alternate look at the real beliefs of the man who (arguably) invented Western political science.
I’ll definitely zillionth the Dresden Files. The series does take a while to pick up though, so I recommend starting on the 3rd book (Grave Peril) as that’s when the overarching plot starts, and just go back to the first 2 whenever you feel like it. The first 2 books have some great moments, but they are stand alone stories and you don’t really need to read them to understand the rest of the series.
I read in rapid succession:
Look Me In The Eye, John Elder Robinson (quasi-autobiography)
A General Theory of Love, assorted authors (essay)
They are good on their own but great together.
Also: Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle. International intrigue! Dolphins! Femme fatale! Hot chocolate made on bunsen burners! Seriously, one of the few books that I still like as much now as I did when I was 10.
OOH and The Other Boleyn Girl, by Phillipa Gregory. ENGROSSING.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Wow… so many books I’ve never heard of! This is amazing! I fear the genres I seem to like aren’t very popular here, but here goes:
1. Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires series. A girl moves to Morganville, Texas and quickly learns that vampires are real and they control the town. This series is over ten books strong and I have never once been bored. I snap up the newest ones immediately. You should read them in order. (YA)
2. John Green. The Fault in Our Stars, hello, one of the best books I’ve ever read. Also loved An Abundance of Katherines. (YA)
3. M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin mystery series. These books are a lot of fun and you don’t really need to read them in order. (Adult, Mystery)
4. Sarah Addison Allen – she writes sweet love stories that have bits of magical realism in them. Garden Spells, The Peach Keeper, Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Sugar Queen, I’ve loved them all. (Adult, Romance/Magical Realism)
5. Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache/Three Pines mysteries. I cannot say enough about how beautifully written these books are! Atmospheric, intelligent mysteries combined with characters you really grow to love. I love, love, love them! Definitely try to read them in order because the four latest books have a strong continuing thread to the story. (Adult, Mystery)
The Fault in Our Stars is obviously John Green’s best, I don’t think anyone would argue that… but Katherines is -my- favorite (probably because like a lot of you nerds might, I overrelate to Colin).
Katherines was my first John Green book and also one of the first books I read that made me giggle out loud on nearly every page. I fell in love that day. (Although I haven’t liked his other books as much as I loved Katherines and TFiOS.)
The War of Powers books by Robert E Vardeman and Victor Milan.
There were published in the early 80s, and they were published by Playboy (no, stop, come back!). They’re fantasy books, but the fantasy world isn’t quite the standard elves n’ dwarfs Tolkien clone.
I love them primarily because the two main characters, the ones who drive the story and have all the power, are female. There are two central male character, but they are definitely in the side-kick role. And while there is, as you might expect from Playboy, a ton of sex in it, the women get to enjoy it just as much as the men, and there’s no hint that they shouldn’t. There’s a lot of (well-done) action and combat, and the women get to do all that, too.
I have recommended these books so many times, to so many people, although I honestly don’t think anyone ever believes me when I say how awesome they are. Sadly, they’re long out of print, so you have to hunt them down second hand. Also, there are two versions, one with six separate books, and a two-volume edition with three books collected in each volume, so you need to be sure you’re not mixing up the two sets.
A Trip to the Stars by Nicholas Christopher. This is a suck-you-in sort of novel and has everything I love all rolled into one book: eccentric but empathetic characters, a not-quite-believable (because of the fantastic wealth of one character that could make anything possible) real world with a smattering of magical realism, and enough complicated convergences of storylines, mythology, and science/history to sink a ship. It’s very likely objectively crap, but I can’t verify that – this is a book a lose myself in at least annually and rediscover new things each time.
You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers. It feels semi-autobiographical and the supposedly fictional characters are more than a little -self-indulgent at times but I think it deals very nicely with the sort of existential angst that myself and many of my peers encountered around college age (plot premise: two 20-something friends embark on a trip around the world to give away a stupid amount of money in developing nations that one of them has acquired by having his silhouette used on a lightbulb box, while mourning and trying to come to grips with the recent death of their mutual friend). For a while, I was buying a copy in every bookstore I found it in because I kept lending it out and never getting it back. I’m not sure that I would love it as much now in my 30s, but it feels in some way like a timestamp on that part of my life. Bonus awesome: there are several editions of this book out there because the author kept wanting to “fix” things – the early ones have the narrative beginning on the front cover and continuing on the inside and right on through (no endleaves), and some later editions contain several chapters about 3/4 of the way through which are an interruption of the narrative by the second character that completely turns everything you thought you knew on it’s head…or maybe not.
How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Hetti. (cn for lots of sex, some misogyny and self-loathing) Definitely autobiographical and not really a novel but rather a series of vignettes ostensibly about trying to define one’s soul, but really more about friendship. Sometimes, sounds pretentious, definitely self-indulgent, and hilariously funny – I could not put it down. In some ways I feel like she may be the Hemingway of my generation (I totally do not “get” or enjoy Hemingway, though I understand and appreciate that he really resonated with the “lost generation”)…I suspect there are some generational touchstones here too so YMMV. Several laugh-out-lound lines – a personal favorite: “We live in an age of some really great blowjobs. Every era has its art form. The 19th century, I know, was tops for the novel.”
So I totally forgot to mention Martha Wells, and then I realized that a pointer to a SFF book reviewer might be a reasonable thing for this thread? Because I love her tone of voice and attitude, and of the books she’s liked, I have also liked Every Single One. So.
Liz Bourke reviews books over at Tor. She posts roughly once a week, she does tend to focus on women writers and women protagonists, but she’ll also be hugely amusing taking things apart to tease out what was awesome, what didn’t work so well and what was problematic. Given that these open threads don’t come nearly often enough, she is a fine reliable place to find Moar Things to Read KTHXBAI. The link for her review/blog directly is http://www.tor.com/Liz%20Bourke#filter
Love this thread & can’t wait to update my reading list!
I find myself constantly re-reading and recommending:
1. The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux — a controlling, paranoid inventor moves his family from New England to Central America to try and create a more perfect society.
2. The Plague by Albert Camus — a town in Algeria is quarantined after an outbreak of plague.
3. Let The Right One In by John Lindqvist — a lonely outcast befriends a young girl who moves into his apartment building, only to discover she’s a vampire. IMO the book is better than either the Swedish or American versions of the movie, but the Swedish movie is still one of my all-time favorites.
**Trigger warning: pedophilia
4. News Of A Kidnapping by Gabriel Garcia Marquez — nonfiction account of the kidnappings of several prominent Columbian citizens by the Medellin drug cartel in the 1990s.
Other people have already recommended Pierce, Gaiman and Fraction’s Hawkeye, so I’ll just nth them by a lot. I also really liked the first Harry Dresden book and want to get my hands on more.
I ended up doing mostly comics, but… yay comics!
1. WHITE OLEANDER by Janet Fitch. (Not a comic. The rest are comics.) Trigger warnings abound on this one, though. The original short story was about Ingrid, an incredibly vain and beauty-obsessed woman who would have been at home in those ancient feudal courts where writing poetry and looking gorgeous were more important than literally anything, and how a modern woman. Ingrid herself was way too unsympathetic and unlikable on her own, so Fitch wrote the actual novel about her daughter, Astrid, and what happens to her after her mother is put away for murdering an ex-boyfriend when she’s twelve. The writing is gorgeous. I don’t usually go for the really flowery, poetic sort of prose, but it really works in this one. It was actually the first real gift that I ever gave to my then-girlfriend (now-fiance). I bought another copy of it and highlighted all of my favorite passages. Now that we live together, that’s the copy that I tend to reread.
I’d warn anyone upfront about the triggers before loaning it out, though; Astrid is emotionally and occasionally verbally abused by her mother and in a series of foster homes (at one point she’s shot, she starts a relationship with one foster mother’s boyfriend when he’s 40+ and she’s well under 16, that sort of thing), there’s a part where she befriends a black woman and her current foster mother is incredibly racist, etc. Which I’m sure is making a great/terrible case for it. I’ve been really emotionally attached to this book since I was a teenager and it actually helped me realize that my own mother was abusive because I started examining why I identified with Astrid so much.
2. Greg Rucka’s THE PUNISHER. I really wouldn’t call myself a fan of the Punisher pre-Rucka, but Rucka’s writing style is just… unf. Wonderful. I was devastated when I got to the end of his War Zone arc and realized Marvel had taken him off and cancelled the solo title to put Frank Castle into Thunderbolts. Rucka’s run also includes a regular female character named Rachel Cole-Alves whose story runs parallel to Frank’s until she actually becomes his (non-romantic) partner. My love for Rachel Cole-Alves is possibly a little excessive. (Rucka, btw, makes a habit of writing female leads into his stories—I also read his Image comic, LAZARUS—and wrote an article for io9 about female characters called “Why I Write Strong Female Characters” that deserves to be Googled. I went into that article expecting him to inevitably disappoint me, but the whole second half is about how gender informs character and specifically going to his female friends and asking about their experiences as women.)
I realize that ultra-violent shoot-’em-up-women-are-objects comics are a real turn off for people, and they are for me too. I can honestly say that the way he writes Rachel (and all of his female protagonists that I’ve read so far) makes me really comfortable, in a way that a lot of male writers doing “strong female characters” really doesn’t. I never got the sense that Rachel was being sensationalized or uncomfortably sexualized, there’s very little (if ANY but I could be misremembering) male gaze type stuff with her. Rachel and her narrative are talking to ME, not an assumed-to-be-male viewer that I step into the shoes of to enjoy my comics. The big downside to Rucka’s Punisher is that there isn’t more of it, really.
THE PUNISHER also has a crossover with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and Waid’s DAREDEVIL called The Omega Drive that I really liked. Waid’s Daredevil in particular is very good, and still ongoing. So yay!
3. Mark Waid’s DAREDEVIL. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Spider-Man right now (really wish I could), but Waid’s DAREDEVIL, Vol. 3 run is great and I’d recommend it to everyone. Really heavy emphasis on Matt Murdock’s friendship with his best friend, Foggy Nelson, and his run is a really good starting point for people jumping into comics in general. Maybe not Daredevil himself, though, Vol. 3 makes a lot more sense if you read Vol. 2, starting with Smith, then Bendis, and then Brubaker. You CAN go earlier than Smith and into the Miller stuff, but there’s a lot of gross misogyny and refrigerated women and ridiculous “hey look at my boobies” artwork when you go back that far and I prefer not to. Vol. 2 still has its share of ladies being treated badly, but it’s also solid storytelling and isn’t as overly sexualized. Matt is a really interesting character and he’s my fiance’s most favorite.
4. Kelly Sue DeConnick’s CAPTAIN MARVEL. Issue #1 came out fairly recently (within the last couple of years). It’s a little difficult to get your hands on because all the issues are sold out pretty much everywhere, but you can get digital copies if that’s your thing, or order issues online or from your local comic book store if it’s not. They’ll be happy to get it for you, trust me. It starts as Carol Danvers (formerly Ms. Marvel, Air Force pilot, self-identified feminist, part alien and ALL BADASS) is getting used to using the Captain Marvel name. The first arc has her traveling through time. It’s all written so damn well that I literally burst into tears after reading the first issue. It’s framed on my wall and I have a tattoo planned around a quote from it. Not even kidding. It’s a feminist must-have.
5. Marjorie Liu’s THE NAME OF THE ROSE. ROSE is a Black Widow solo comic that I reread the shit out of. It’s Natasha being badass all over the place, fighting ghosts from her past, and also being even more badass. She also has brief face offs with a couple of other kickass ladies (Elektra and Lady Bullseye), and manages to talk about Natasha having a child, being in a relationship with Bucky Barnes, and having what amounts to a small army of superhero dudes ready to fight for her without making me feel like she’s being weirdly objectified. Marjorie Liu is a BAMF, is what I’m saying. She and Deconnick both make a habit of talking about women in comics on a regular basis and are really cool, intelligent ladies in general.
On the subject of comics I’d also like to recommend Mike Carey in general and Lucifer and his run on Hellblazer in particular. If you liked the version of Lucifer that Neil Gaiman created for Sandman then Lucifer is more of that and well worth the read.
Surely someone will have mentioned these by the time this comment makes it through the spam, but at the time I’m writing this, I don’t see them, so…
1. A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE by George R. R. Martin, first book A GAME OF THRONES. There’s an HBO series made out of these books now, and it is GR8 (GRR8?), but there is even more joy to be had in the books! If you like high fantasy and/or pseudo-medieval European historical fiction, you will like these books lots.
2. THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. A beautiful fairy tale that I re-read frequently.
3. THE RED WOLF CONSPIRACY by Robert V. S. Redick. If the Aubrey-Maturin books got together with the Lord of the Rings and had babies, this is what those beautiful, magical, adventurous babies would look like. First of a series.
4. FIFTH BUSINESS by Robertson Davies. An amazing snapshot of a vanished time in Canadian history.
5. THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. This book is about children fighting other children to death for the entertainment of a dystopian nation in the aftermath of a failed uprising against a totalitarian state. Also first of a series, but can be read alone.
I constantly recommend Working with Difficult People, to friends having issues with coworkers. The great thing is – you don’t have to read the whole thing because it is laid out like a thesaurus divided into the types of problematic behavior you are encountering, and also whether the person is your boss, a peer, or under you. It can give you some real insight and strategy and let you know when it is hopeless, too.
It’s uncanny how often it has been right, eerie almost.
I have not read it but will seek it out for sure, thank you.
Which one? Amazon lists one by Muriel Solomon, one by Michael S. Dobson, William Lundin Ph.D. and Kathleen Lundin, and DK Essential Managers: Working with Difficult People by DK Publishing.
Phew, this is quite a list. Books that had a big influence on me, but that I haven’t seen mentioned:
Mountains Beyond Mountains — A non-fiction narrative following Dr. Paul Farmer, an amazing doctor/researcher/infectious-disease specialist that has done amazing things to bring modern medicine to places in desperate need of it. Absolutely lovely, not just because of the awesome things Farmer does, but because a) Tracy Kidder is a brilliant writer who knocked this one out of the park, and b) Farmer’s attitude of “huh, so you say we CAN’T fix horrible injustice X, it’s too hard? Yea, I think you’re wrong, I’m going to do it anyway” is so inspiring. b) doesn’t always work out, of course, but he does accomplish an amazing amount by listening to people, working hard to get them what they need to be healthier, and generally being stubborn as hell.
Middlesex, by Jeffery Eugenides — Masterfully written compelling narrative. Main character is born apparently female, but has a [incredibly rare, but real] genetic disorder that means he develops male characteristics starting at puberty. This is really only part of the story, which is much deeper and intertwines the family history of the main character with his life story.
Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. — Memoir about the author’s upbringing in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya, all places that were varying levels of scary and unstable at the time. She was an observant muslim during the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and she endured some of the most horrific practices common to her religion’s and cultures’ treatment of women… so like, all of the Trigger Warnings you can possibly think of. But it’s brilliantly written, and that she fucking comes through it all and comes out the other side is… breathtaking. I listened to it as an audiobook in the author’s voice, and it was intense but beautiful. If you can handle it, it is worth a listen, truly.
The Malaria Capers: Tales of Parasites and People, by Desowitz. Sadly, his books are old enough that you can’t get ebooks, but cheap used copies are easy to come by. Non-fiction about parasites, how parasitic diseases have drastically shaped cultures and world history, and the amazing and sometimes amazingly fucked-up [woo hoo, completely unethical testing on native “volunteers”, children, and grad students!] history of the early science of parasitology. I’m biased, given that I’m now actually educated as a parasitologist, but this is one of the books that MADE ME a parasitologist. I’ve only ever gotten a handful of people to pick up Desowitz (my students never wanted extra reading, and my friends/family are all “eww parasites”), but I promise this is not about gross-outs and dry facts… there are deeply human stories here, wrapped in fucking masterful non-fiction reading.
And now a request: I’m a bit of a memoir/personal essay junkie. On the humor end there’s obviously Sedaris, and for full-length memoir The Glass Castle (Jeanette Walls) and Wild (Cheryl Strayed) are some favorites. I know there was a smattering of such things in the above recommendations, but I think the only thing I added to my list was a reminder to try again with David Foster Wallace. Any other suggestions?
Chicago is ruling the Live Lit/Personal Essay scene right now, so I suggest Samantha Irby’s book, MEATY. If you like her blog, bitchesgottaeat, then you’d probably like this. Her essay about taking care of her mom is killer. Also anything by Megan Stielstra.
Disclosure: They are friends of mine. Friends who are fucking great writers!
Hehe, I do read bitchesgottaeat, and Meaty is on my list, definitely. I will check out Megan as well, thanks!
Have you read Robert Fulghum (author of All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten)? I got a funny one at the library a while ago called Dan Gets a Minivan by Dan Zevin.
For humorous memoir/personal essays, I’ve recently read and enjoyed Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).
Second recommendation would be Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d be Cake and How Did You Get This Number!
1. Digger by Ursula Vernon– Hugo-award winning graphic novel about a very practical protagonist (who happens to be a talking wombat) in a nonsensical world. The characters are amazing; the story is funny but deep. This is one of my true comfort books…reading it will always make me smile.
2. The Fever series by Karen Marie Moning– Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with fae. It’s a five book series, and the heroine goes through an amazing character arc throughout the books. Warning: There is triggery content several books in! (and violent and/or sexual content pretty much throughout).
3. Babylon’s Ark by Lawrence Anthony– Nonfiction, the true story of a guy’s crazy adventure to save a zoo in the middle of a war. I actually enjoyed his book The Elephant Whisperer better, but I usually recommend Babylon’s Ark as a more fun, fast read.
4. Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Really, any McKinley book is a good read, but I have a soft spot for this one…a vampire romance that doesn’t fall for any of the cliches, and some truly phenomenal worldbuilding.
5. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. A thought experiment, told through a series of discussions between a man and a telepathic gorilla, about why mankind is destroying the world, the narrative our culture tells itself about itself, and what we can do. It really makes you think about a lot of things we take as “truths”, and how it doesn’t have to be that way.
If you like Ishmael, you should check out Stephanie McMillan.
From my childhood – Margaret Mahy, NZ’s most famous and wonderful children’s author, fantasy, magic realism and some straight fiction. One of my earliest and most enduring loves. Karen Healey (and a lot of Kiwi writers/readers of a certain age) was influenced by her. The Haunting was her first full length novel, and is absolutely perfect. The Changeover is one of her most famous novels, and all her books have a lot to say about family and relationships.
Rumer Godden – wonderful children’s and adult’s author, for the time she was writing in (1930s-1980s) her characterisation of child characters was so unsentimental and real. I include several of her kids books as ones that saved my life and sanity as an abused and neglected child.
Margaret Forster – English feminist novelist and biographer. She wrote `Georgy Girl’ made into the film with Lynn Redgrave, with the theme song by The Seekers. Novels about women’s lives and relationships, particularly working class women. Wonderful family memoirs and biographies about famous women – and men. I’m not a fan of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but Forster’s biog of her is fascinating and so beautifully written. Forster is a definite comfort read for me.
Just discovered and how have I not read before: Ray Bradbury – such beautiful writing. I discovered recent anthology of stories by writers that were inspired by him, and that finally got me on to him. About time.
Shirley Jackson – beautiful writing, tough and important themes.
Jackie French – Australian YA and children’s author. Wonderful novels with engaging and well written characters. A lot of Australian history, beautiful writing. Recommend A Waltz For Matilda, family saga, Australian outback, strong female characters, workers and women’s rights, race issues.
Arrg, sorry! That’s more than five – I just got so carried away…
I admit I haven’t read all the comments yet but I would highly recommend Prachett fans have a go with a Tom Holt or two. I would suggest Flying Dutch or Barking if you’re looking for a standalone or Portable Door if you’re willing to get sucked into a series. His sense of humour is really superb and weird doesn’t begin to cover it.
I also second any one who suggested Ocean at the end of the lane, I couldn’t put it down. It was so beautiful and bittersweet and almost worth the wait!
I’m a huge Tom Holt fan. I’m having a Holt binge at the moment to help me cope with the horror that is Australian politics. As well as his great comic fantasies he also writes wonderful historical fiction, usually from the `Everyman during a significant time in history/in the outer circle of great historical figure’ perspective. His more recent comic fantasy works are darker than the earlier ones, and he is often compared to Douglas Adams as well as Pratchett.
I recommend the ‘Honor Harrington’ novels by David Weber.
Military Science Fiction with a kick ass female protagonist climbing up through the ranks. The series is ongoing.
‘A Canticle for Leibowitz’ by Walter M. Miller Jr. The history of monastic order after a nuclear war. The story spans several centuries. Excellent and very chilling.
‘The Forever War’ by Joe Haldeman. The life of a soldier fighting in an interstellar war without FTL travel. He has to deal with a drastically changed society every time he returns due to time dilation.
‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ and sequels by Diana Wynne Jones. They are just hilarious.
‘Krabat’ by Ottfried Preußler. In the late 17th century teen beggar orphan gets apprenticed at a mill. Turns out the miller is in league with the devil. Great book.
1. The Abhorsen Series by Garth Nix, especially the first book, Sabriel. Awesome female protagonist, cute love story, really creative worldbuilding and a good old fashioned adventure.
2. The Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. I finally read these after I got hooked on ‘Sherlock’ and was surprised at how readable and enjoyable they are. Some are better than others but they’re all fun.
3. Freakonomics by Leavitt and Dubner- economists apply economic principles to stuff you wouldn’t think to do so with interesting results. The big takeaway is how people respond to incentives in really unexpected ways. Also has a sequel, Superfreakonomics.
4. Call for the Dead, John le Carre- le Carre is one of my favorites; he writes tense, slow-building novels with awesome payoff and interesting characters. Definitely a different and probably more realistic take on the spy genre. I find all of his books immensely satisfying.
5. All Quiet on the Western Front by Remarque- this book got me into studying history. Follows a German soldier in the trenches during the first World War. It’s an incredibly painful look at war and and a pretty depressing read all around. I keep coming back to it at different times in my life and it always has something new to say to me.
I am straight up bookmarking this post.
A couple of Canadian authors that I like to recommend:
Guy Gavriel Kay – fantasy, esp alternate reality fantasy. He hasn’t written a single book I wouldn’t recommend, although do note that there is violence, including violence against women, in many of his books. (His women characters have a lot of agency, despite the medieval fantasy setting, although some may be trapped by circumstances and have to make terrible choices.)
Robert J Sawyer – Sci-fi author. I would recommend starting with his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy (quantum computers and a parallel world of Neanderthals!), or the WWW trilogy (blind girl, her autistic dad, & feminist mom are primary characters, plus Singularity!), or the Farseer trilogy (dinosaurs in SPAAAACE – but not the way you might think), or if you just want to start with one book, how about “Calculating God” (Aliens land at the Royal Ontario Museum! Hijinks ensue!) Content note about Sawyer – You can see him working through feminist themes in many of his books. Some he does not always get quite right. In one of the books of the www trilogy, I was annoyed by a conversation about abortion where I did yell at the book. It is only a couple of paragraphs in an otherwise awesome trilogy, but if you are fed up with anti-choice bullshit skip those paragraphs – they don’t affect the plot.
I love Robert J. Sawyer! Amazing near-future extrapolation. I highly recommend The Terminal Experiment and Flashforward in addition to the ones already mentioned.
– Seconding Mote in God’s Eye. The sequel is not quite as good though it too is interesting.
– A Prayer for Owen Meany: Strange. Not sure about it’s gender and sexual politics (more strange than anything else.) Really good, even for (non-Christian) me.
– Nella Larsen’s Passing. (TW: racism, etc.) One of the better books I was ever forced to read.
– Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (TW: spousal abuse). Another of the best books I ever was forced to read, in my days of youth. Would have read it myself. So sad.
Webcomic: Girl Genius. More of a graphic novel than comic strip. REALLY GOOD. Heavy on the fanservice, but it goes both ways.
Fanfiction: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. (Read it’s own trigger page on its website). VERY LONG, unfinished, and absolutely incredible. Plus it teaches rationality, decision theory, the engineering mindset in a totally accessible way.
1. Ellen Kushner’s Riverside books: Swordspoint, The Privilege of the Sword, The Fall of the Kings. Alternate-world fantasy, mostly without magic. Lots of queer characters, queerness is generally accepted. TW in Privilege of the Sword for sexual assault, and for some violence (and questionable relationship choices) in all of them.
2. Laurie J. Marks’s Elemental Logic series: Fire Logic, Earth Logic, Water Logic (and forthcoming Air Logic)–alternate-world fantasy with (guess what) elemental magic. Queerness and polyamory are not even really marked states. The plots have to do with politics and war and colonialism but also emotions and relationships.
3. Megan Whalen Turner: The Thief, Queen of Attolia, King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings. Alternate-world, with gods (and guns) but no human-performed magic. The first two books just get stranger and stranger, deeper and deeper, until in King of Attolia you are the one who has the inside information; in Conspiracy of Kings you’re along for the ride. Turner does plot twists like nobody else.
4. Diana Wynne Jones–everything, but especially Fire and Hemlock. Really complicated (structurally, thematically) fascinating fantasy novel set in modern Britain. It’s sort of Tam Lin, except in all the ways that it isn’t.
5. I rarely actually tell people to read Stars In My Pockets Like Grains of Sand (by Samuel Delany), but secretly I think that lots more should read it. Far-future SF, queer characters, characters of color, and Delany having too much fun with pronoun usage; it mucks with your head, and it’s great.
YOU HAVE EXCELLENT TASTE IN BOOKS. I adore Attolia, Diana Wynne Jones, and Privilege of the Sword, and your other two picks have been on my to-read list for a long time. Bumping them up the list now! 🙂
Sergei Lukyanenko’s Nightwatch series. Read it. Seriously. Apologies if it’s been mentioned already. It’s an Urban Fantasy about people with supernatural abilities called Others. There were two sides who were at war, and they are now in a truce. The Light Others watch over the Dark Others and they are the Night Watch. The Dark Others watch over the Light Others and they are the Day Watch.
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion. It’s a zombie love story and it’s just wonderful. There is a film out of it but the book is better.
I’m thrilled to see so much stuff I love rec’d by others, it’s good to know there’s more fans out there! I’m going to try to name a few that haven’t been posted about a lot yet.
Theodore Sturgeon: he was hugely influential on the SF field. His stories are pulpish, but the good side of pulp, the side that dares to hold nothing back and makes it work. His stories are very human. One of my favorites (Slow Sculpture) starts by discussing bonsai, and how the most beautiful bonsai are sculpted from the trees that have been exposed to the harshest elements, and have been twisted into strange patterns, and yet survived. And then he talks about how people shape each other like bonsai…
Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse: a graphic novel about a gay kid coming of age against the backdrop of the civil rights movement. Very compelling. If I just look at a page, the art isn’t 100% my taste, but the art brought the story to life perfectly. The story is fiction, but draws heavily on the author’s actual experiences, and was supplemented by research.
Dick Francis: these are just plain fun. There’s a million of them, and they all follow a similar pattern. Reserved, reasonable guy gets drawn into a mystery, during which his mettle is tested (by going through the wringer physically, and by then summoning up the nerve to stick to the course anyway). Horse racing will always be involved. I used to let them pile up for 3-4 years, then go on a reading jag.
Vernor Vinge: SF with interesting world-building.
Ray Bradbury: yeah, he’s already been mentioned a lot, but I don’t care, because if I had to pick just one author (perish the thought) it would be him. I loved Dandelion Wine, and I loved like the first 50 years of his short stories. Later on, he wrote some stuff that was decent but not quite as magical. But those early stories… oh, they send shivers down the spine. So much love of life, and so much awareness of the strange/painful/horrible parts of life. He has a reputation for nostalgia, but many of his stories are straight-up scary. I think those two actually go together-treasuring the magic and being aware that it doesn’t last forever. One of his introductions gave this quote as an early influence: first you dream, then you die. (Sorry, I don’t recall what he was quoting.)
I’m sure that I’ll be revisiting this post a lot to work my way through other people’s recs. I can tell there’s a ton of great stuff.
Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge. Near-future sci-fi (which both the sci-fi lovers and sci-fi haters I have made read this have really liked, so don’t let that scare you off if you’re not a sci-fi person), with gorgeous writing, compelling characters, a queer protagonist, and lots of really interesting things to say about solitude and self vs. community and, of all things, management styles. It’s absolutely lovely. (Also: potential claustrophobia triggers?)
Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Vampires done right. Really compelling, really gorgeous, somewhat creepy, entirely delicious. Also, it’s based around a coffeehouse/bakery that I want to will into existence so I can hang out there all day.
The Valor Series by Tanya Huff. Military sci-fi with a badass lady protagonist, who Gets Shit Done, and lots of interesting aliens. These are both really funny and really heartbreaking…and Tanya Huff manages to capture the realities of war without getting into grimdark territory, which I really appreciate.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. I love almost everything by Barbara Kingsolver, but this is the one I try to get everyone to read, because it is lovely, and the crotchety old man protagonist who gets the whole town to raise goats to spite his hated neighbor is one of my favorite characters ever.
The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. *points up to A Hedgehog’s fabulous description*
I love the way that Tanya Huff shakes up gender expectations.
I’ll have to finish reading comments later, but wonderful topic!
And great books therein!
My top recommendations:
1. I’ll Take It – Paul Rudnick, highly fictionalized and semi-autobiographic, a love letter to the women in his family.
2. Replay – Ken Grimwood, dark and complicated and hopeful.
3. Song for the Basilisk – Patricia McKillip. Also really anything and everything by her.
4. Bloodchild – Octavia Butler. Again, anything and everything by her, but these short stories I return to again and again.
Trigger warnings: Both recs #2 and #4 address problematic issues of consent. They address them really well, IMO, but the topic comes up.
Rec #3 for violence.
Safe to say CA followers are often readers? Recommending:
COWBOYS ARE MY WEAKNESS – Pam Houston. Short stories about the ups and downs of loving the distant outdoorsman.
ANANSI BOYS – Neil Gaiman – Fantasy and spiders and major family dysfunction.
MR. PENUMBRA’S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE – Robin Sloan – San Francisco, Google, and a mysterious bookstore.
GHOSTWRITTEN – David Mitchell – If you liked CLOUD ATLAS, interlocking stories taking place around the world. His writing is sublime.
WHAT I LOVED – Siri Hustvedt – Intellectual, beautiful, one of the most haunting books I’ve ever read. The psychology of love and desire, the art world, and suspense. Terrible title, but a special book.
Recommending a website called The Book Dumpling, where I got ideas for recent reads. Happy reading!
Ok, I’ve already left a bunch of reply comments with my favorites scattered throughout the thread, but aside from Lois McMaster Bujold, Connie Willis, Tamora Pierce, Jacqueline Carey, Tanya Huff, Ellen Kushner, etc., here’s one more I haven’t seen anywhere else on the list:
Sarah Monette, especially Melusine and sequels, and her ghost stories starring Kyle Murchison Booth (The Bone Key collects almost all of them, but she links to some others through her livejournal). I absolutely DEVOURED Melusine and its sequels and found The Bone Key and her other short stories because I just could not get enough of her writing. If you like Jacqueline Carey or Anne Bishop, you should try these.
The Bone Key is a collection of ghost stories set in Boston in the 1930s, I think, and they are super creepy and really well written. I read a bunch of them late at night during a thunderstorm, which I DO NOT recommend unless you love a good scare. Because holy shit, I crept around the house, avoided mirrors, turned on every light and jumped at every sound for DAYS.
Melusine is fantasy, but definitely with some horror elements. It revolves around a talented thief and a wizard with a semi-secret lower class background and I don’t want to spoil it, but the books are so good! One thing I love is that the 2 main characters have really different voices and trade off the first-person narration, so you get the benefits of first person narration (tight focus, being inside a character’s head) but some of the benefits of third person narration (a wider view of the world) since 2 different characters narrate more-or-less alternating chapters. Later books introduce more point-of-view characters. Monette is excellent at giving her characters real and different voices. Trigger warnings for rape, violence, and abuse. Also, creepy shit with labyrinths and ghosts. But totally worth it if you can deal with that stuff.
Nobody’s Son (YA about medieval royalty/magic, very grounded in real characters and becoming yourself) and Mockingbird (sisters, mothers, magic inheritance, sultry south Texas. a man writing very convincing women, IMO) by Sean Stewart
The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell as already mentioned ( yay!) very clever, beautiful, and *human* writing about first contact and meaning and love
Guy Gavriel Kay: my patience for his tendency to ruthlessly manipulate and withhold information from the reader wanes as i get older, but still love to visit. Lions of Al-Rassan is the best, IMO, runners up go to Sarantium, then Tigana.
Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams, traditional high fantasy, brilliant and immersive and epic. also Otherland, I love the characters, the huge range of inventiveness, and the social commentary on wealth and online community and virtual reality. (i do NOT like Shadowmarch, sadly)
Barbara Kingsolver: my favs are Prodigal Summer and Beantrees, but it’s all good.
Doubting Yourself to the Bone, Thomas Trofimuk ( canadian printing, might be hard to obtain in other places) emotionally powerful and poetic story about a family dealing with loss. the landscape plays a role almost as a character and it has some fun quirks and twists.
I love, love, love A.M. Dellamonica’s contemporary fantasy books Indigo Springs and Blue Magic. The magic is satisfyingly powerful and scary, the relationship dynamics are satisfyingly complex and compelling, and the whole thing is full of queers of all kinds — including a major trans character — and POC, many of them Indigenous Americans. There is a fair amount of violence, including people being burned by witchburners, and at least one unhealthily manipulative relationship dynamic, so some caution is in order with respect to triggers.
THE INVISIBLE MOUNTAIN
It is soooooooooooo good, beautifuly written and interesting and detailed. It’s the story of three generations of women in Uruguay, and it deals with rape and abandonment and politics and change and poetry and reclaiming your world and your city and your family and your body as your own and has a trans* character whose storyline is treated respecfully and also a bisexual character and just. Recommend.
I’m sorry, I know there are rules here, but I can’t narrow it down past these ten.
1. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST by Ken Kesey. This was my angsty-teen-nobody-gets-me-rebel book; the one I read over and over and quoted incessantly in high school, when most of my friends were obsessed with either THE CATCHER IN THE RYE or ON THE ROAD. I still read it about once a year. The movie is great, of course, but it, out of necessity, loses the voice of Chief Bromden, the most lovely and interesting (and possibly the only likable) non-reliable narrator since Huck Finn. Fair warning, though, as the only women in the book, besides its notorious villain, are a couple of prostitutes, and the only african-american characters are the cruel orderlies in the hospital, it’s not the most progressive of works.
2. SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury. A brief catalogue of things that I adore: Halloween, sinister carnivals, classical moustache-twirling villains, Shakespeare, nostalgia, stories about children facing off against an adult evil that only they can see, Master Ray in his ‘October Country’ mode. A terrifying joy to read as a child. A heartwarming (and breaking) meditation on aging, parenting, and death to read as an adult. Plus it has one of my favorite opening paragraphs of any novel ever–second only to…
3. THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson. Either a psychodrama disguised as a horror novel or a horror novel disguised as a psychodrama. Subtler, even, than TURN OF THE SCREW with its is-there-or-isn’t-there-a-supernatural-presence ambiguity, and still scary as hell. Also, I love the delicate characterization of the protagonist, Eleanor. She’s a put-upon introvert, who is narcissistic to the point of solipsism, and yet she’s still sympathetic and likable (most of the time.)
4. IT by Stephen King. A literary child of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES. Kids in the 1950s are, once again, teaming up to stop the evil that the adults can’t see–only here we trade Uncle Ray’s dandelion wine-soaked Greentown for the Bard of Bangor’s blood-drenched Derry. It is a tough, ugly, scary book, and–fair warning–if you have a personal trigger, it’s probably somewhere in the thousand-plus pages of IT. Domestic violence, child abuse–physical and sexual, hate crimes, really underage sex, and a lot–A LOT–of child death. None of it is gratuitous, or out of place, given that the villain is, by it’s own admission “everything you ever were afraid of”. In spite of all that (and possibly, in part because of it) IT is one of the best books about friendship I have ever read.
5. THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY by Charles Dickens. Honestly, any of Chuckie D’s sprawling, grotesque, sentimental melodramas could make my list (I’d put BLEAK HOUSE, OLIVER TWIST, GREAT EXPECTATIONS, and A CHRISTMAS CAROL just as high on the list). NICHOLAS NICKELBY is a checklist of everything Dickens does best; Nicholas the good-natured-young-hero, Smike the lovable-and-saintly-but-doomed-orphan, Kate the virtuous-young-girl-in-danger, Ralph the soulless-capitalist-primary-villain, Squeers the vicious-grotestque-power-abusing-secondary-villian, a gang of evil rich monsters with wicked names like Hawk, Gride and Pyke, and a collection of lovable, funny benevolent characters with adorable names like Browdie, Crummles, and Cherryble. Part cartoon, part tearjerker, all grand Dickensian excess.
6. THE INGENIOUS GENTLEMAN DON QUIXOTE OF LA MANCHA by Miguel De Cervantes. How many works written four centuries ago can still make a modern reader laugh and cry so much–often within the very same sequence? Every pair of great friends in fiction–(including Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, and Nicholas Nickleby and Smike from earlier in this list) owes something to the amazing relationship of the Knight of the Woeful Countenance and Sancho, his trusty squire. A great work of romantic optimism, artfully disguised as a great work of cynical pessimism. And so, so, so funny.
7. FOUCAULT’S PENDULUM by Umberto Eco. A head-twisty, insanely dense, and obsessively-researched precursor to the “Da Vinci Code” and “National Treasure”–type ancient-conspiracy-mystery-adventure story. It’s a compendium of the most nutty conspiracy theories and obscure hermetic philosophies couched in a Sherlockian mystery with three brilliant protagonists. This book manages an amazing feat, in the way that it doesn’t alienate the reader. Even though the author, and every single character in the book is smarter than you are (and there are large passages of untranslated ancient languages), you never feel uncomfortable about that. Eco is a university professor, and I imagine he’s a damn good one, because his books always make me feel like an eager, attentive student.
8. THE HITCH-HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Douglas Adams. Has there ever been a more joyful and easy-to-devour book? Or one that anyone, from fourth-graders to octogenarians, can get as quickly lost in before collapsing in unstoppable fits of the giggles? Space is big. Vogon poetry. Beware of the leopard. So, this is it, we’re going to die. Towels. Oh no, not again. Forty-Two. Don’t Panic.
9. MOBY DICK by Herman Melville. One of the most contentious ‘great novels’ ever–as it tends to divide readers into camps of “It’s the greatest and most amazing thing ever put onto paper” and “Dear God what a boring, meandering catalogue of minute details about 19th century sailing practices, enveloping a simple story about a whale hunt that could have been told in, like, 90 pages.” I’m firmly in the former category, though I do understand where the book’s detractors come from. I think it’s the best book about obsession ever (though I think an argument could be made for LOLITA on that front)–and the obsessive nature of the book doesn’t stop with Ahab (who, by the by, is the most Shakespearian character Shakespeare never wrote) but in the obsessive nature of the narrative itself. It also sums up, pretty succinctly, the dark side of the American character.
10. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak. If I have to tell you why, then you have never been a kid, and you have no soul.
(By the way, big thanks to my dearest friend germythegentlemancaller–master wit, verbal slayer of the insufferable, flawless chef, and main squeeze of the distinguished Captain Awkward–for shamelessly plugging my book, so that I don’t have to.)
I’ve read a lot of the ones recommended, and a lot more are going on my to read list. If this site had a “like” button, I’d have used it on almost every post. Most of the time, when I make a book recommendation it’s tailored to the person I’m talking to. It’s surprising how two people can read the same book and come to completely different conclusions. But here are some general recommendations:
– The Gift of Fear
– How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.
– Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg
– If you like romance, I’d recommend anything by Courtney Milan. Her books are Not Your Mother’s Bodice-rippers. The female characters are grown women with intelligence, agency, and oftentimes a sexual history. The male characters have emotions besides anger and lust. There is good consent; masturbation is portrayed in a positive light; she tackles issues like birth control, domestic violence, and mental illness.
– If you like Tamora Pierce, you will probably also like Mercedes Lackey.
– I see that there are a lot of fans of historicals, so I’ll recommend the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. Definitely get these as audiobooks, if you can. Barbara Rosenblatt IS Amelia Peabody! Speaking of audiobooks, I think The Dresden Files is also better in audiobook form, but only the ones read by James Marsters.
– I just read a great book called Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson. The main character is a conjoined twin (surgically separated from her sister). It’s about family relationships, and identity, and finding your place in the world. It has magic and gods, and music, and a lake monster who likes oranges.
Dah Dundunt! (That is supposed to be the sound from Reading Rainbow, okay?)
Oh, and I forgot to add: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum. This is a great Racism 101 book.
1. The Moon and the Sun, Vonda N. McIntyre. Fantasy/alternate history at Versailles at the end of Louis XIV’s reign.
2. The Fencer trilogy by K. J. Parker (Colours in the Steel, The Belly of the Bow, The Proof House) Parker specialises in a kind of fantasy (is it fantasy?) alternative history (of no known period but lots of recognisable situations and technologies) trilogies in which hugely horrible things happen. I love Parker – the intense detail and realism with which everything is worked out is just my bag – but in every Parker novel I ever read, really horrible things can happen to pretty much anyone.
3. Solitaire and Brahms, Sarah Dreher. Young editor at women’s magazine meets young love.
4. The Beacon At Alexandria, Gillian Bradshaw. Meticulously researched and gloriously and appropriately feminist, a girl of a good Roman family wants to become doctor. (What I mean by “appropriately feminist”: nothing jarring given the third-century milieu, but a lot of historically appropriate rethinking about a woman’s role. It’s one of the things I love about Bradshaw.)
5. Farewell Great King, Jill Paton Walsh. The story of the first politician, Themistokles of Athens, from boyhood til death.
All of these writers fall into the fortunate category of writers where I love pretty much every single book they ever wrote, but these five are books of theirs which for various reasons I love best.
The Beacon at Alexandria is one of my favorite books, I re-read it probably once a year. I just read Cleopatra’s Heir and enjoyed it very much (and love her Arthurian stuff). But this one is my favorite of hers, for sure.
Skimming through the comments it looks like y’all have excellent taste.
A few I love that I didn’t see mentioned:
Larklight by Phillip Reeve – Victorian-era space opera with Space Pirates. Written for kids but whatever, I’m young at heart. Has pictures. More books should have pictures!
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman – Girl who is secretly part dragon. Also, a musician.
The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper – Much beloved book from my childhood. Magic, quests, Christmas, snow – some of my favourite things!
Colour by Victoria Finlay – Nonfiction about how colours are made (or were, before synthetic dyes.)
The Half-Life of Facts by Samuel Arbesman – Super dorky book about how science evloves.
Among Others, by Jo Walton. A book about growing up science-fictional.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Disparate characters are connected by their link to an obscure book. So wonderful! The prose makes me swoony.
So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman. HUGE TRIGGER WARNING FOR SEXUAL VIOLENCE. A woman goes missing in a rural community and the book chronicles the events leading up to and following her disappearance. Exquisitely written and explicitly feminist.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. A young man searches for the author of his favorite books and is caught up in a dark mystery!
So I’m seconding some previous recommendations:
Jasper Fforde (with warning that after the Thursday Next books you’ll be plundering your bookcase for classics to make sure you got the joke!)
Erin Morgenstern – The Night Circus – loved it, beautifully written
Bill Bryson – I just find him hilarious
If you like children’s/YA books, the Artemis Fowl series by Eion Colfer is worth a read – Artemis is a 13 year old criminal genius, and fairies live under the earth and are really high-tech.
One author I didn’t spot before (apologies if I missed anyone) is Marian Keyes. Her novels are satisfying door stop size, told in the first person and deal with big issues. It’s difficult to give content notes without spoilers as several of the books start off with the reader not knowing what has gone on before, but subjects include drug abuse (and rehab), domestic violence, depression & suicide attempts, miscarriage, rape & its impact, serious illness, being widowed and family breakdown. The books are all written with humour and aren’t what I would call ‘heavy’ reads, even though they deal with serious subjects, and her lighter ones if you want to try her without coming across major thing you aren’t warned about on the back cover are probably Watermelon & The Other Side of the Story.
Awesome, awesome thread that I will be turning to for recs in the future. My five (chosen to avoid overlap with other people’s suggestions):
1. The Female Man, by Joanna Russ
80s feminist science fiction, about four women who represent versions of the same woman from parallel universes. Angry, funny, full of manic energy. Non-linear plot, crisp scenes.
Warnings: Some find the depiction of trans women in this book to be disrespectful or problematic.
2. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
Set in New Orleans in the early 1960s, this novel follows Ignatius J. Reilly (a fat, nerdy, lazy weirdo who lives with his mother) as he searches for gainful employment and tries to come to terms with the modern world. I love the characters and the dialogue; this book makes for incredible read-out-loud material.
3. Poems by Etheridge Knight on PennSound
Really listening rather than reading, but I figure it’s close enough. (Also, if you like it, you can buy The Essential Etheridge Knight and read all the poems in there.) Knight spent a lot of time in prison (he was a poor black drug addict, so that is not surprising) and wrote powerful poems about prison and civil rights, as well as more traditional topics like family and love. He has a gorgeous reading voice, one that makes me want to listen to him speak again and again.
Warnings: Many of these poems depict brutal prison conditions. “For Freckle-Faced Gerald” makes me cry every time I listen to it.
4. For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Not Enuf, by Ntozake Shange
Ntozake Shange is one of the talents from the Harlem Renaissance that I wish more people remembered. This one is sort of half-poem, half-play: a collection of dramatic monologues from the points of view of various young black women. I love these for the language, which manages to sparkle and convince at the same time.
Warning: Some of these deal with rape and sexual assault.
5. The Magic Mirror of M.C. Escher, by Bruno Ernst
Explains the ideas behind Escher’s paradoxical woodprints: how impossible figures work, how Escher plays with perspective, the geometry of shapes that fill a plane or a space. Come for the cool pictures, stay for the surprising explanations of how they work.
*When the Rainbow Is Enuf, jeez. How did that “Not” get in there?
hey, i’m pretty sure (like, wikipedia-sure) that ntozake shange was not part of the harlem renaissance and is in fact still alive and well, a baby boomer, in fact. she just came out with a new novel sometime in the last couple years, too. not that this takes anything away from the rest of your rec!
Urk! You are correct, and how did I not know that? Anyway, thank you for making me more factually accurate. (And it is still an awesome play.)
Ian Irvine’s ‘The View From The Mirror’ quartet (the first one is ‘A Shadow On The Glass’). Such a great epic fantasy series with really in-depth story-lines and loads of great characters. I love how detailed everything is, I would say Irvine’s world-building is on a par with LOTR. There are a few series after this one which continue some of the story lines so it’s great for if you want something HUGE and immersive.
He is also writing a totally different fantasy series called ‘The Tainted Realm’ (first book is ‘Vengeance’) which is really good as well and a bit lighter going.
Quick Warning: Because of the historical setting/society that Irvine uses there are a few occasions where men use their physicality against female characters in distressing ways. It’s never a huge story line but does crop up.
The one I always end up recommending is “The Unorthodox Engineers” by Colin Kapp… and then I feel very guilty because it’s out of print and copies cost £50+.
Anyway, should you stumble over a copy, it’s a collection of SF short stories. Not much in the way of great prose or fantastic character development, but they’re a lot of fun. The premise is that in the far future, with human colonisation spreading over a variety of bizarre planets, conventional engineering solutions won’t be up to fixing the problems we’ll encounter. How do you build a railway system on a planet with constantly appearing volcanoes? How do you figure out the function of an alien subway system? And – probably my favourite – how do you build anything at all on a planet where, if you cut a 1 metre metal bar in half, you end up with two bars measuring, say, 56cm and 57cm each?
It’s from the 70s, so unfortunately some of the science is a bit out of date. But still great fun.
And I also love Tana French. I went to the university in which ‘The Likeness’ is partly set, and her descriptions are spot on.
Books! Hurrah! I’m about half way through Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch and I second (143th) the Captain’s recommendation.
I find myself reading a lot of fiction which isn’t typically aimed at Teh Laydeez, which I guess is why I enjoy it? I love everything I’ve ever read by John Le Carre but in particular the Karla trilogy (Tinker, Tailor… was the first one). All the characters are beautifully drawn and perfectly realised. There aren’t very many female characters (that’s a problem with all 1970s spy fiction, I suppose) but the ones that are there are excellent, and not at all stereotype-y. And the second book has pretty much the best one line sex scene ever? TWs: I can’t remember anything to do with sexual violence, but there’s both violence and character death, in all of the books of his I’ve read.
I also really, really like the Warhammer 40K fiction by Dan Abnett. I know, I know. It’s super awesome. He’s got a long series called Gaunt’s Ghosts and, while there’s no female characters for the first two books due to PLOT, from book three (and I think there are 13+ books now) there are a whole stack of interesting, often badass ladies generally being awesome. The characters aren’t anywhere near as good as Le Carre’s, but I enjoy them anyway. TWs: Again, I don’t remember anything sexual violent-y, but there are a lot of books, and it’s been a while since I read some of them. Also, it’s set in a TOTAL WAR FUTURE, and all the stories revolve around soldiers and battlegrounds, so skip if you aren’t into that.
For something (slightly) more realistic/ less pulpy, I adore The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe by DG Compton. This is a really interesting science fiction take on reality TV and it has aged very well.
Finally: Good Omens (rec’d near the top of the list but damn worth repeating).
Happy reading, fellow Awkwardeers!
Ick, that sad moment when you realise everything you’ve rec’d is by (white?) men Also check out Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susannna Clarke for an amazingly realised alternative history of Napoleonic war-era Britain, but with magicians.
Another really great sci-fi book – Cecelia Holland’s Floating Worlds. It was written in the 70s but it doesn’t seem dated at all (well, except for their listening devices using tapes).
Oh, sorry – trigger warning, there’s a sexual assault and some rough interrogation scenes.
1. I know Octavia Butler has been shouted out a few times already, but OMG OCTAVIA BUTLER. I’m zooming through the last book in the Xenogenesis trilogy (called Lilith’s Brood in older editions, like mine) and losing my mind a little bit.
2. Les Misérables took me about two years to finish but I’ve always been glad I did. (Don’t be ashamed to read an abridged version though.)
3. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, manages to be super lush somehow even though the prose is economical and direct. You’d probably also be fine picking up anything else by her.
4. Comic Time: Saga, written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples (who’s from my hometown!), was the darling of the Eisners and the Harveys this year, for good reason. When I get a new volume I always read it three times: first for the story, then for the art and then…just because. (TW for instances of rape and child molestation, plus it’s pretty grim and violent overall.)
5. Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain splits the difference between Tolkien- and C.S. Lewis-style fantasy; it’s more lighthearted than Lord of the Rings, but manages to stick to one mythological tradition (Welsh), unlike the Narnia books. My dad read the series to me and my sister when we were kids and it was a pretty formative influence on adult-me, esp. the fourth book, Taran Wanderer.
Ok, if I ever DO get around to posting my own list on this thread, Saga would have been on it too! I love Saga. But we can sell this better. All the art is drawn by a woman. The main character is a woman of color. OMG THE ROMANCE! *swoon* Babies! Trees that are spaceships! Magic! Intergalactic war! Lady assassins! Robots! Royal robots! SO MUCH COOL STUFF SAGA IS THE GREATEST AND IT IS ENJOYABLE FROM EVERY LEVEL YOU SHOULD TOTALLY READ IT. Seriously, this was my first foray into comics (well, besides reading Watchmen I guess). My boyfriend is a big comic reader and feeds me good stuff–he got me the first volume for Chistmas and it’s AWESOME. Have been keeping up since then. 🙂
Any by China Mieville, but especially his Bas-Lag trilogy, Kraken, and Railsea. The Ghost Map, The Speckled Monster, Faust’s Metropolis, and Far From the Tree.
I think Far From the Tree may really resonate with some of the folks here (it did with me). It’s about families with children who have some characteristic not shared by their parents. Trigger warning – one chapter is about children who were conceived during sexual assaults. The author (who wrote that he wrote the book in part to look at his experiences as a homosexual coming out to his family) addresses the topics with tenderness and care. There are chapters on deafness, dwarfism, autism, transgenderedness, and schizophrenia, among other topics.
Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix. Magic, zombies, a giant Wall and bells. I loved these books growing up and I love them still.
We Need to Talk about Kevin- tw for underage violence, abuse and a general creepy air. I’ve read it about six times simply for the feelings. The movie (while beautiful) does not do it justice.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Hysterically funny apocalypse book. I’d love to meet a chattering nun. Seriously. I think I’ve given away all my copies.
And that’s all I have for now. This thread has been AWESOME to read.
Comments are closed.