I’ve gotten a few questions lately, from people who got e-readers for the holidays or need books to read on the plane trip back home or whatever, about what I recommend for books. Below, therefore, are some of my long-term favorites. There are probably a lot of authors and books that just don’t come to mind right now–my brain, post-holidays, is making gentle whirring noises but not doing a whole lot else–so please feel free to suggest others. I myself am always on the lookout for new stuff, though I like happy endings and nothing too brain-breaking. (I would particularly like recs for authors of color, since I realize this list is wicked Caucasian.)
Robin McKinley. Really, anything by Robin McKinley ever. My personal favorites are The Hero and the Crown for heroic questy goodness, Rose Daughter for a cool romantic plot and some really engaging domestic details, and Sunshine for amazing modern fantasy with a world just enough off from ours, but she’s a pretty sure bet for an engaging story every time. I’m a little hesitant about reading the Pegasus series, due to my own “um, ick” reaction to some of the themes I’ve heard are involved, but she’s good enough that I’ll probably get over it.
Terry Pratchett. If you’re not keen on puns or direct parody, which I understand, skip the first few books. I personally recommend starting with either the Tiffany Aching series (Wee Free Men and onward), Witches Abroad, or Reaper Man. The Guards series is really great too, and I personally like Men at Arms pretty well, but I’ve heard mixed reactions on that one because some parts of it are still in the high-frequency-puns stage.
S.M. Sterling, in specific Dies the Fire and its sequels. Sterling does a really interesting job of describing how different cultures evolve and create myths, and creates a very vivid picture of the new world. (Also a rather sensual one, in a non-sexual way: I always want to have a snack when reading the series, because the descriptions of either food or not having food are compelling.) He seems to always create at least one major female character who bugs me big time (shut up, Signe, and you too, Mathilda) but I can overlook that.
Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel/Naamah books. First of all, to get it out of the way: yes, there’s a fair amount of sex in all of them, which Carey does well. What keeps drawing me in, though–especially since the main romance in the first three books made me roll my eyes more than not–is the world-building, and the way that each country has its own magic and pantheon of gods. It’s a fun look at an alternate world. Carey’s other series didn’t grab me, but I’m not big on villain’s-perspective fiction, so it may work for someone else.
Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series. Another alternate history–I like the genre, though I usually want some supernatural or at least vaguely science-fictionish element involved. Novik’s dragons seem to fit more in the second category at the moment, since I’ve never seen anything blatantly magical in the series, but who knows? They’re also very engaging characters, with a distinct nonhuman outlook on things. Plus, the female characters in the series are largely badass and all well-rounded, which is always a plus for me.
Stephen King. Not that everyone hasn’t heard of the man, but as long as I’m putting in recommendations, why not? I myself started out with IT and still love it, but it’s *really* dated where gay characters are concerned, and there’s a scene at the end that a lot of people, justifiably, find really off-putting. As a first-time reader, I’d pick up either Different Seasons or Four Past Midnight, novella collections that have a fair amount of variety.
Clive Barker, as long as we’re doing horror. Lyrical and extremely disturbing: I will not read his stuff after 10 PM. The Great and Secret Show and Everville, particularly, contain interesting meditations on the theme of dreams and stories and The Human Condition, which is about as close as I get to being serious.
Diane Duane, the Young Wizards series. Duane is one of the rare authors who can actually write poetry as part of her fantasy novels, and it shows in her prose, too. She’s got enough of a scientific background to incorporate physics into her magic well–or at least well enough for this English major. 😉 There are eight novels out in this series, and I love every one of them.
Mercedes Lackey is excellent mind candy, particularly when she gets away from writing about teenagers with self-esteem problems. (Or if you care about teenagers with self-esteem problems, which I did back when I was twelve.) If the talking white ponies put you off–you are not alone there–I’d go for the Victorian magical wonkiness of the Elemental Masters series or the just plain weirdness of the Bardic Magic stuff.
At the risk of seeming biased, since I read both their blogs regularly, I enthusiastically recommend Susanna Fraser and Rose Lerner to anyone who likes romance novels, or thinks they might. Fraser’s The Sergeant’s Lady is an incredibly engaging story, set largely on or near the front lines of a war, with an amazingly sweet hero and a sensible, tough heroine. Lerner’s In For a Penny is a highly original Regency romance, with characters I admire and adore. These are the first books from both authors, and I can’t wait to see more!
And now my mother is telling me that I have to get dressed and see more relatives. More books to come, hopefully–and please recommend your favorites as well.