html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: Light reads.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Light reads.

I was all, blah blah blah, I can give science fiction and mystery recommendations, but I am nearly forced to retract that. I haven’t read much science fiction in a few years. I am still reading some fantasy, especially when I’m looking for an escapist couple hours on my porch. With the warning that they are not new, here are my recommendations; as always, lots of plot, minimum of angst and when I can, a skew toward strong female characters.

Science fiction/fantasy:

I bet lots of you have read Ken Grimwood’s Replay. The conceit of going back to relive parts of your life with knowledge from the last times you lived through that period is now one of my standard daydreams. I know so many great guys I would scoop up before their current wives or girlfriends.

Everything by Dan Simmons. In fact, I should check if he has released anything recently.

Pat Murphy’s The City, Not Long After is a beautiful story, set in post pandemic San Francisco. It offers a magic realism take on waging war in which the city itself is a combatant.

The Sword of Mary and Psalms of Herod by Esther Friesner. There’s some strong stuff in these, including executions in Sword of Mary that I have never been able to revisit or forget. Another post-apocalypse setting, Psalms of Herod is set in a rural country governed by an extreme patriarchal religion. Sword of Mary is set in a more recognizable city, but then things go wrong. I picked up some other Friesner on the strength of these two books and it was horrible. I think these are a departure for her, so don’t judge them on any other Friesner you’ve read.

Mysteries: These are all solid examples of the genre, but I am not claiming more than that I enjoyed them.

Female protagonists:
I liked all of Karen Kijewski’s books, and not just because they’re set in Sac.

I like Linda Barnes’ Carlotta Carlyle series. Set in Boston.

Rosemary Edghill wrote an odd trilogy about a New York Wiccan who gets dragged into mysterious happenings. She is funny and skeptical about her freak community, while remaining devout in her beliefs. Speak Daggers To Her, Book of Moons, The Bowl of Night.

Not-female protagonists:
Bangkok 8 and its follow-up, Bangkok Tattoo, by John Burdett, were fun.

I also liked Eliot Pattison’s Inspector Shan books, set in Tibet. Starts with The Skull Mantra.

Young Adult and children’s books:
All of these are kinda girlie, but I wouldn’t write them up if I didn’t really like them.

Sarah Dessen, This Lullaby. I’ve found all of Dessen’s books very readable. This one has an especially nice group of female friends and a hot and sweet love interest. Maybe for junior high, high school age readers.

Patrice Kindl, The Woman in the Wall. This is a peculiar little story about a sister and daughter who decides to live within the walls of her house. It has a couple very funny lines. I re-read it often. Junior high level, I guess.

Carol Plum-Ucci, The She. Carol Plum-Ucci writes the same story – most people being conventional and nasty, a previously popular protagonist deciding to be a good person, mysterious something that goes unanswered – in all her books. But she does it really well. Mature junior high, high school readers.

Sharon Shinn, Safe-Keeper’s Secret, Truth-Teller’s Tale, and the upcoming Dream-Maker’s Magic. Everything I like. Nicely done fairy tales, and a romantic resolution. Junior high level.

Clare Dunkle, The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy. I’ve got real reservations about the gender dynamics in these books, but I very much like the reversal of the usual elves-good, goblins-bad. And they’re funny. I’d recommend these with a follow-up talk about the patriarchy, but definitely recommend them. Junior high level.

Kate DiCamillo, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. An early chapter book, but such a beautiful book. A toy rabbit goes through a succession of owners.

Oh! And The Misadventures of Maude March: Or Trouble Rides a Fast Horse by Audrey Couloumbis. A great story about a pair of kick-ass young sisters on the American frontier. Fine for early junior high. Or me.


My earlier recommendations.

Your turn, y’all. What should I read? A shameless good story, no whining.


Anonymous UnderwearNinja said...

I don't have time to read lately! I do make time for William Gibson's books and Neal Stephenson ... sometimes.

I still have a Stephenson book sitting, patiently waiting for me to indulge, and I think he has another one out already!

So really, I'm useless in this department.

1:03 PM  
Anonymous justus said...

SF/Fantasy: Moorcock's Behold the Man, Bester's The Stars My Destinaton (one of the best science fiction books of all-time), Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar (an acquired taste), Pohl's Space Merchants (anticapitalism in 1952), Budrys' Rogue Moon (great psychological portrayal), Shute's On the Beach (the only post-apocalyptic novel you need ever read).

Mystery: I can't handle most "mystery" books because they always feel too contrived to me -- the two or three Agatha Christie books I've were not fun experiences. I do love me some noir, though. Chandler and Hammett being the two best examples of the field. I hated the movie "The Promise" but was still convinced to give Durrenmatt another chance and really like his play "The Visit". Does A Turn of the Screw count here?

YA: King Dork is the best YA book I've read. Not that I've read any others really (unless the first book of Harry Potter counts). I seemed to have missed out on the YA reading stage growing up. The perils of reading your parent's library, I suppose.

1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recommend anything Umberto Eco has ever written, especially: "The Name of the Rose", and "Baudolino".

If you want escapism try Neal Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle" series(originally 3 hard-covers, now it's something ridiculous like 6-9 paperbacks). It's epic and one of the very central characters is a very strong and forward-thinking woman(especially for the time period, late 17th - early 18th century). Pretty much everything else he's written is at least decent, with the exception of "Interface" and that's probably my own shortcomings.

To narrow the Gibson recommendation I'd say you should start out with "Neuromancer", then hit some of the other novels like "Pattern Recognition", and "Idoru".

I'm also partial to Terry Goodkind's "Sword of Truth" series.

I would recommend Richard K. Morgan's stuff but his stuff could be construed as anywhere from mildly to horrifically sexist.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous davidc said...

Ok, this isn't a book, but your description of Replay made me want to recommend the movie Primer. It's a science-fiction time travel movie in what I think of as the emerging "movies made for change found under the sofa cushions" genre. (It's mostly just a few people talking, so they didn't need to spend a lot on special effects or sets or...) I saw it with some friends and we immediately ditched our plans for the rest of the day to go to a pub and spend hours arguing about what had happened. We're probably going to do that again now that it's out on DVD. I've seen a lot of time travel stories, and it managed to be quite entertainingly twisted.

3:06 PM  
Blogger thor said...


Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson. It falls apart a bit at the end, but if nothing else, read the first chapter or 3.

The Diamond Age: Or, a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. Strong female protaganist, imaginative.

A Deepness in The Sky by Vernor Vinge.

Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge.

The first 3 novels of Kage Baker's "The Company" series (In the Garden Of Iden, Mendoza in Hollywood, Graveyard Games).


Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

and here is a short story by her set in a similar world:

Nightwatch by Terry Pratchett. The only Pratchett book I'd recommend.

Young Adult:

The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud.


by Ross Thomas, the Wu and Durant novels (Chinaman's Chance, Out on the Rim) and the McCorkle-Padillo novels (Cold War Swap, Cast a Yellow Shadow, Twilight at Mac's Place), also Briarpatch, and Ah! Treachery.

Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins novels also tend to be very good.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Vintage Contemporaries)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. This story is told from the view point of an autistic child. It's a quick read, and very good, and a bit heart-breaking.

3:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Strong female characters: Marylinne Robinson's 'Housekeeping'. If you're not hooked after the first page I'll eat my hat. (As an imaginary I can afford to say that)

[Dubin, when will this apartheid against imaginary people end? :) ]

Ismail Kadare's 'Broken April'..very poetic; Calvino's Mr. Palomar or Baron in the Trees. Quirky. Eccentric. Nothing short of brilliant.

Philip Roth: The Human Stain.

Travel: Exupery's Wind, Sand and Stars.

Sci/Fi you have to watch Tarkovsky's Solaris if you haven't seen it already.

girlies: we are not girly-men!

children's ...there *is* only one: Pooh .

Did you notice how many Ph.D's are reading your blog?

Bill O.

I hope you're not going to downgrade me after my ponytail 'joke'.

3:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Risk Pool by Richard Russo. Just a great read, better than his Pulitizer Prize novel, Empire Falls.

Chang Rae Lee's Native Speaker. Brilliant mix of politics, sociology, and spy story (kind of)>

If you have three months, Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy--an historical/cultural overview of India in the post-partition (I think that's what it's called) days. It's like 1400 pages but really, really easy to read.

That'll keep ya...

5:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In SF/Fantasy, almost all of Lois McMaster Bujold's books are very good. I highly recommend them--the omnibus Cordelia's Honor would be a good one to start with.


5:04 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

No noir for me. That's what the news is for.

Grant and UnderwearNinja:
I've never made any progress with a Stephenson book, but I'll try again if you tell me to. Didn't like Gibson.

LOVED Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell, but I also loved Vanity Fair, back in high school. Pratchett's kids's books are about one SD better than average. I've heard good things about Easy Rawlins and liked Dog in the Night, except that his confusion in the train station was nearly too painful to read and where was some nice person who would look hard at him, diagnose a child in pain, and do something considerate or useful? It made me ache.

5:03 Anonymouse:
I'll check them out, but they sound more demanding than I was going for.

Hah! I just this week finished the Chalion trilogy. I thought they were very good.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Zubon said...

I'll recommend Stargirl, which falls under young adult literature. The Strictest School in the World is slightly younger, An Abundance of Katherines slightly older.

5:42 PM  
Anonymous jens said...

Stephenson's Snowcrash is a must.

His Baroque cycle is long, but if you like strong female can you NOT like Stephenson? Of course, I thought Gibson was OK, too, but not as earthshattering as Stephenson.

Jack Vance's Demon Prince novels are fun to read ("The Face" has the best surprise ending ever, and involves an interesting engineering water, though).

Zelazny's Lord Of Light and Amber series are also precious.

6:08 PM  
Blogger Dubin said...

You forgot Holes.

6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neal Stephenson isn't for everybody.

Now that I think about it you might like his book called "Cryptonomicon." It's got a strong female main character, and it's also got quite a bit of engineering and mathematics geekery in it. The other advantage is that it's less than 1/3 the length of the Baroque Cycle.

Personally, I haven't been able to get past the first 10 pages of anything Vernor Vinge has written.

I've read one book by Storm Constantine("Stalking Tender Prey"). I'm not really sure whether I liked it but it was definitely an intense story. This woman is fearless in the perverions she'll explore. I think maybe I like what it could have been more than what it actually is.

If you liked Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel then the Baroque Cycle and The Island of the Day Before(I haven't finished this yet). They're all of a very similar style.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Megan said...


I recommended Holes the first time I did a book list, because it is the best book ever.

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For sf try:
Connie Willis's Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog

Iain M Banks pick any of the "culture" novels, perhaps Consider Phlebas or The Use of Weapons (he drops the middle initial and turns out some very nice/strange mainstream fare as well.

Fantasy? Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana is so good that I'm jealous of people reading it the first time - more "adult" than usual fantasy fare. His stuff after Tigana ranges from good to wonderful, he did an earlier trilogy that is not bad, but less interesting.

Steven Brust's work is great fun mostly fantasy, a little sf - killer female characters (literally!)

C.J. Cherryh for both the fantasy and sf

Diane Duane writes a bunch of trek stuff which isn't my cup of tea, but she did 2 or 3 fantasy novels that start with Door into Fire - hot enough to live up to the name.

If you want to give Stephenson another go - Diamond Age has the benefit of being both short and tasty.

I second the Bujold - it's light yet nourishing

Mysteries I haven't kept up with in years...

Reading lots of non fiction, but mabe another time, I'm supposed to be preping for vacation


7:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: three books earlier (Russo

Actually, they are not demanding at all. Just good stories.

For mysteries, I like Walter Mosley's color mysteries..

8:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time trilogy - an offbeat, whimsical take on the meaning of love in the modern world.

And by all means you must read Cats Cradle.

Extra Credit: Moorcock's Gloriana and Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus.

-SV Insomnia

1:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, I actually read three of the recommendations from the last list and my favorite was "Holes". There's even a play version being put on here in Boston.

Second, my method for giving out book recommendations is to start with my strongest, surest bet. That way, if you love it, I gain the maximum amount of street cred. My pick is George Martin's "A Game of Thrones". Funny enough, I first got wind of George Martin due to this statistian's list:

Martin came in #1 and I'd never heard of him, so I thought it must be BS. No. His series is the most entertaining that I have ever read full stop. I've so far had eleven people read this book and not one of the eleven failed to race to the next one.

Third, I missed your party a couple of days ago sooooo...

I'm an ex-grad student stay at home dad in Boston with a small business. I have 2 and 3 yr old little girls, one with brilliant auburn hair (despite having a Portuguese mother), and one who is now turning into a prune so I have to go get her out of the shower...


6:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgot to mention that that same weird pseduo-scientific list I gave you also has Replay ranked very high. Even weirder -- while attending an SF con in a small town in the Czech republic, I ended up drinking with George Martin and HE recommended Replay to me.

And I second DavidC's remark that if you love Replay, that Primer would be a great DVD rental. Just turn the subtitles on -- those engineers talk FAST and don't finish their sentences.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Noel said...

The 'little party' as Robert calls it, wasn't enough to make me de-lurk, but I can't miss a chance to diss Stephenson!

So: Neal Stephenson sucks. Discuss.

But seriously! Snow Crash was ok, but the Cryptonomicon was all a man's got to be a real man bullshit. That, and wanking won WWII. What a crock.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Noel said...

I suppose I should recommend a book in addition to starting a flame fest.

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood is great, if sad, SF strong on characters. Read it!

8:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sci fi:
Cryptonomicon!!!! and everything else by neal.

Neil Gaiman - start with American Gods (novel)

ursula k. leguin - specifically try the telling.

I see someone put richard russo - he is a joy - straight man is also a great one by him -full of funny academic hijinx(sp)?.


8:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd second Alfred Bester (both "The Stars, My Destination" as well as "The Demolished Man"), "The Name of the Rose" and "Snow Crash" (I agree that the first few chapters are the best).

Some additional recommendations:

Fantasy/Humor: "Good Omens" by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (about the apocalyps)

Non-Fiction: "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin (great book about human discover . . . e.g., how did humans first get a grasp on time and the changing seasons?)

SF: "Ender's Game" and "Speaker for the Dead" by Orson Scott Card(the several follow-on books in this series are not nearly as good or original); "Nightwatch" (by some Russian author).

YA: "The Great Brain" series by Fitzgerald


9:03 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Second the appearances of:
for whatever reason, the word I associate with this book is "bouncy."

-Straight Man
a bit pat, but fun

-American Gods
I was initially irritated, but ended up really enjoying this one

-The System of the World trilogy
if Newton and Hooke are important characters, you bet I'll read it

-Pattern Recognition
very evocative

-The Truth (and Going Postal)
I'd actually put them more than 1sd better than the mean

-Good Omens
so you think Los Osos messed up with their sewer planning? imagine if they laid out the water service in a demonic rune...

cute fairytale.

sort of a classic sci-fi book. better than most that I've read thus far.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Peter Gulliver said...

Y/A: Susan Cooper's the Dark is Rising series. Every kid should read these. Good female characters. British/Welsh mythology. Good and Evil.

SciFi/etc: I'd agree with Cryptonmicon and the Baroque Cycle, great female characters, but you need to be prepared to immerse yourself--particularly with the Baroque Cycle.

Has anyone read Stephen R. Donaldson's the Gap Cycle? The first book is "The Real Story." Incredibly strong central female character, true drama. It begins with a rape, which is traumatic if you're not ready for it, but the story is about her redemption, and how she saves those around her.

None sci/fi fantasy: "The Queen of the South." Great fast-paced novel of a poor Mexican woman who becomes the largest drug smuggler in the western Med. Well written, well plotted, and a fascinating examination of the drug trade. Unabashedly shares elements with "The Count of Monte Cristo"--but shorter thank God.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

I've read a fair amount of the canon, including Card, who has been unendurable recently, and Niven, of course. I should start a fight over which was better: Startide Rising or Uplift War. I say Uplift War.

I hate to think it, but I am reluctantly coming to the conclusion that not every one of you has read every single word of the archives. Do you work at work?

I just reserved a ton of non-fiction off the Unfogged book recommendation thread, but as soon as I work my way through those, I'll read your recs. Yours will be more fun.

10:02 AM  
Anonymous justus said...

Has anyone read Stephen R. Donaldson's the Gap Cycle?

I really liked it when I read it in college. Donaldson did an excellent job of keeping the Big Plot hidden from the reader. I liked that about it. I think it is better than his Mirror or Covenant series.

So: Neal Stephenson sucks. Discuss.

I wouldn't say he sucks. Instead I'd say "most overrated genre novelist of the past 20 years". As others have said, the first part of Snowcrash was great, the rest okay. I absolutely hate hate hate hated The Diamond Age. One of the few books I've given up on.

My pick is George Martin's "A Game of Thrones".

I read the first book when it came out in hard cover however many years ago. Had no desire to read the next one when it came out. I think it's high rating is more due to the recency effect (it is fresher in people's minds) than any real intrinsic quality above other great books in the genre. I liked the Wild Cards mosaic novels that he edited better. Of course that was mostly just for creating a superhero setting where not all mutants are superheroes...most are horribly deformed and have to live lives of quiet desperation in Jokertown.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Lo said...

Further support for: Primer ( has a couple of links to elaborate timelines for the movie which are nice for post-watching reference) and Oryx & Crake (I love Margaret Atwood's books).

"The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane"? I had just gone through some untimely goodbyes at the time and read it while waiting at LAX one morning and bawled at the end of the book. "The Tale of Desperaux" (also DiCamillo) is similarly sweet.

Have you read "The Dark is Rising" series by Susan Cooper? A little bit of fantasy/magic, mystery, and youth literature all rolled into one. One book in the series won a Newbery Award and another got an Honor.

3:18 PM  
Anonymous HC said...

Gene Wolfe. For light reading, you could try his YA Pandora by Holly Hollander, or his Wizard Knight duology.

Bujold is great.

A Suitable Boy is massive, but very much worth the time.

For off-beat light reads, try Tim Powers' The Drawing of the Dark or The Anubis Gates.

The Atrocity Archives, by Stross, is also good.

Finally, as a very light read, consider Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October.

11:07 PM  
Anonymous imogen said...

megan, I don't know if these will be to your taste, but I have a few fantasy recommendations that haven't been mentioned yet. all relatively easy reads but I find them interesting and good escapism.

Phillip Pullman: His Dark Materials trilogy (Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) - I think classified as 'young adult' ie teenagers, a bit dark at times though, so wouldn't give them to anyone too young. I felt the last book let the series down a little, but overall I liked these a lot.

Fiona McIntosh: The Quickening trilogy (Myrren's Gift, Blood and Memory, Bridge of Souls) - Australian writer, I loved these! I found the first one especially very hard to put down.

I also enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, also Ender's Game. In terms of Terry Pratchett, I'll point out Mort (from the Discword series) to your notice, it's probably my favourite out of what I've read of his.

3:07 AM  
Anonymous Emir said...

Martha Wells writes really good, original fantasy. Sample chapters available on her website here. Wheel of the Infinite is my favourite.

4:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Megan,
If you actually see this, I recommend The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. That one and the subsequent Mma Romatswe books are sweet and I love them to pieces. :)

9:52 AM  
Blogger Megan said...

Mel honey, you gave me the first one for my birthday two years ago and now I've read the whole series. I liked them, too.

I very much liked The Dark is Rising, His Dark Materials and most of Connie Willis.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous scottb said...

Here's random stuff.

First, strong female characters? Read the Autobiography of Mother Jones.

Next, young adult. The Robin McKinley books are almost all good especially The Blue Sword, and The Hero and the Crown. "Fantasy" I guess, but great stories. And "Deerskin" is for older young adults, and it's awful and powerful and a great read over and over.

Science Fiction? James Tiptree, a pseudonym for a woman writer whose name I forget - all her stories have these unique premises, a pleasure to read.

11:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Denise Mina. Scottish mystery novels. No whining. Strong women. Believable.

2:21 PM  
Blogger txako said...

What should you read?
Anything by Ray Loriga.
Anything by Jeanette Winterson.
My pleasure darling.

1:42 PM  

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