Instead of “Read Lately…” the title of this post should more accurately called “Read In The Last 15 Months” because it appears it has been that long since I last wrote a book post. It wasn’t until this weekend that I realized how long it has been, when some of my guildies and I started chatting about books over vent while playing Guild Wars 2. That’s right, conversations here at Knights of Mercy do occasionally revolve around intellectual topics. What? They do! Stop laughing!
No matter how busy I am with gaming, I always find time to read and I am never without at least one book in my currently-reading list. Since I didn’t quite make it last year, I’m still trying for my Goodreads Reading Challenge of reading 100 novels this year (currently up to 77 now, in case you’re wondering). By the way, if you’re an avid reader and still haven’t joined Goodreads, what are you waiting for? I practically live on there.
Needless to say, I’ve read a ton of great books in the last year or so, and I had a hard time picking only a handful to talk about for this post; that will teach me not to wait so long again. But since I love sci-fi and fantasy, those are the genres I mostly stuck with. The following is just a small sample of the books that have resonated with me, or have been memorable in one way or another, and that I would recommend.
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Like the legions of people who have picked up this book lately, I was first intrigued by the trailer for the upcoming film based on it. Now that I’ve read it, I’m more curious than ever. It’s not particularly an ideal book to make an adaptation. It’s like six separate stories all nested within each other like a Russian matryoshka doll, its characters only having a tenuous link to each other. Like six novellas, the first five split in half, interrupted right in the middle, only to be continued after the sixth story is told to completion. Does this even make sense? Every time I try to explain it, I’m given arched eyebrows and the nod-and-smile-at-crazy-MMOGC expressions. You can see why I am curious how this will fly as a movie.
The stories are set in different times, different places, each has its own themes and even its own written style. As such, I don’t even really know how to classify this book — it is science fiction, it is fantasy; it is also historical fiction, and it is mystery. It also has a dash of romance and a bit of thriller. David Mitchell has done something amazing, giving each of his six protagonists a distinct voice and personality. The book is thematically quite heavy, with lots to think about during and after reading, but ultimately also very enjoyable to read.
Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia
On the opposite of the spectrum, you have Monster Hunter International, which is what I like to call a “guilty pleasure book” or “popcorn book” because it’s so full of mindless fun. It’s full of cheese and cliches, but I would also recommend this series to fans of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, especially if you’re looking for a lighter, happier read because of how sort of dark and heavy Dresden has gotten lately. On the other hand, MHI is a bit goofier, but possesses the same kind of humor and action one would desire.
For example, the book begins with the following two sentences: “On one otherwise normal Tuesday evening I had the chance to live the American dream. I was able to throw my incompetent jackass of a boss from a fourteenth-story window.” And it just gets crazier from there.
Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey
In recommending this book, I am also actually recommending Leviathan Wakes, of which Caliban’s War is its sequel.
Both books start off kind of slow, but like a rollercoaster ride makes up for it in spades after a gradual and steady build up. Definitely read Leviathan Wakes first before taking on Caliban’s War, as the events of the latter relate to those of the former. If you’re looking for a good space opera, this series is shaping up to be a mighty fine one. Expect a horror element, but that’s all I can say without spoiling anything.
Redshirts by John Scalzi
No one does humorous sci-fi adventure action like John Scalzi, and over the past year I’ve become quite the fan of his with Fuzzy Nation and two books in the Old Man’s War series under my belt. He has a way of making me laugh, even when his characters are dying horrible, gruesome deaths.
Take the good old Star Trek gag about redshirts, give those poor disposable crewmen their own personalities and lives behind the scenes and you’ve got this book. It’s hilarious, but also be prepared for some mind-bending stuff. It can get pretty abstract. Pretty meta.
If I have one gripe about this book, is that I feel it wasn’t particularly well-written as a novel. As in, in some places it read more like a screenplay. It definitely does not have as much detail as his other books, like hardly any character development or any sort of descriptive writing at all, but it’s heavy on the dialogue. But perhaps this was intentional — this is a fun yet bizarre book. If you do read it, you’ll see what I mean.
Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
Urban fantasy normally isn’t my thing; not that I don’t like reading this sub-genre, it’s just that it’s so bloated right now that finding a good series to stick to is like wading through a morass of confusion and despair. It’s especially difficult these days to find an urban fantasy series with a female protagonist who I don’t feel like strangling on sight. However, I’m quite happy I found the Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, thanks to a bunch of people on my friends list who have read it and gave it good reviews on Goodreads.
Character development is superb, and so is the world building. Plot falters a little, especially in the next couple of books, but I have to admit this isn’t atypical when it comes to urban fantasy, and in any case I don’t read this genre for award winning story lines, just a good time.
Master of Crows by Grace Draven
Speaking of a good time, here is an indie for those looking a traditional sultry romance that takes place in a fantasy setting, like with mages, magic and all that good stuff. There aren’t too many of those out there, which was why Master of Crows was pretty much guaranteed a high rating from me. Yes, it’s a little cheesy (but if you ask me, all “good” romances kind of have to be, you know what I mean?) and the hero-as-the-master and heroine-as-the-apprentice love story is a theme that has been done to death, but the archetypal romance novel in a fantasy package was what I wanted and it was what I got.
Plus, the story was pretty good. And HOT too, by the way. So I really can’t complain.
11/22/63 by Stephen King
If you’ve even had a tiny glance at book news around Christmas time last year, you probably would have noticed the hype around this title. After reading it, however, I have to say all the praise, the accolades, the acclaim — they’re all well deserved.
I don’t want to say anything more about this novel. The less you know going in, the better this book is. Sure, go to Amazon or Goodreads or whatever to read the synopsis, but nothing else! Anything more will just spoil the experience, since so much of my enjoyment came from not knowing what was going to happen or where the story was going to take me next.
This is probably the best Stephen King novel I’ve read in a long time. Perhaps the biggest surprise — and the biggest treat — for me was the emotion and feeling he achieved in this book. The last few pages had me bawling my eyes out, and me being seven months pregnant at the time probably didn’t help; I was crying so hard my husband got alarmed and wondered what had happened. I told him that it was nothing, I was just on the last page of 11/22/63. Since he’d read it too, his response was, “Oh, yeah.”
Star Wars: Darth Plagueis by James Luceno
Darth Plagueis is probably worth reading simply if for no other reason other than how “canon” it is. Like, if you’re a big Star Wars fan, this is pretty much a must-read. I’d heard somewhere that this book was highly anticipated and that the author worked really closely with LucasFilms to get it just right because it ties in with a lot of the events in the prequel movies. Indeed, now that I’ve read it, I feel I have a much better understanding of the backstory behind those films.
But I don’t want to make it sound like that’s the only reason to pick up this book, because there’s a lot more that makes it a worthwhile read. I was especially impressed by the quality of the writing; sorry to say, but it’s almost too good for a Star Wars novel. It’s obvious that the author put his full heart and soul into writing this. Unlike many other Star Wars books, Darth Plaguis is also less action oriented, and instead focuses more on subterfuge and political intrigue.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This is a novel any geek or gamer can appreciate, especially if you were a teen or in your twenties in the 80s. Hell, I was about a decade too late to understand all the references in this book and yet I still enjoyed it immensely. The entire novel reads like a geeky love letter to the era, quoting music, games, movies, TV, and other pop culture. When I first heard about it, I thought it was just a flimsy and self-indulgent excuse by the author to relive the nostalgia of his youth and spout off 80s trivia. But no, all those references actually tie together and have a purpose.
I think the biggest reason I found this book appealing is the virtual world that features in it, called the OASIS. The main story is actually quite simplistic and straightforward, but since much of it takes place in this massive virtual world, as an MMO player I was just a huge sucker for all of it. Definitely recommended for online gamers.