A lot of people shiver in anticipation waiting for Random Book Day. Sure, it is a day I made up last year, and no one knows when it happens, or even if it will happen. SPOILER ALERT! It is happening! Right now! So brace yourselves. Seriously, we are heading for 3000 words.
This year I have selected 15 titles for your enjoyment. Since several of them are similar to each other I have separated the books into 8 helpful categories. You are guaranteed to love each of these books, the guarantee being that if you don’t you can let me hear all about it in the comments section.
Category 1: Fantasy
As I mentioned in my fave kids books post, which exists in the future, I started reading fantasy novels at a young age. This trend continues today, although I certainly read many things other than fantasy. One of my favorite all time fantasy books (and series) is The Black Company, by Glen Cook. This book mixes gritty, militaristic narrative with epic, mighty magics, and does so seamlessly. Told by the viewpoint of a surgeon and historian for a mercenary company, it features characters ranging from lowly soldiers to an Empress and her array of world-shaking sorcerers. The series goes for 10 books, told by five different narrators, and never disappoints. I’m also partial to Cook’s more light-hearted Garrett, PI series, which is crime noir set in a fantasy world.
There was a time when books based on games and movies and such were rare, other than the “official” novelizations. TSR, publishers of the Dungeons & Dragons game, was an early leader in changing this. One of their earliest book projects was the Dragonlance Chronicles, a series that was intended to tie in with simultaneously released game adventures. They looked at several established fantasy authors (such as Philip Jose Farmer), before settling on the in-house talents of Tracy Hickman (a game developer) and Margaret Weis (a newly hired book editor). They collaborated on the first Dragonlance novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight. TSR, unsure if sales would warrant future books, insisted that this volume, meant to be the first in a trilogy, have a definitive ending. Well, the book sold well enough for the trilogy to proceed. And another trilogy. And another…and now we have over 200(!) DL novels, written by many, many authors.
Anyway…Dragons of Autumn Twilight is a great fantasy read. Heroes of varying types fight monsters, battle dragons, and save the day. Until the next book, at least. As one early review said, it at least gives you something to read after Lord of the Rings.
I came late to the Disc World series by Terry Pratchett. Actually, that isn’t precisely true, since as a teen I read his novel Strata, that does interact with the Disc World, but that only sort of counts. I really started with the 31st book in the series, Monstrous Regiment. Polly Perks joins the army in order to save her family’s pub. To do so she has to pretend to be male. As the story progresses she discovers that not only do some of the other troops in her regiment (which include a troll, a vampire, and an Igor) have secrets, but that all of them do. While there are many recurring characters and themes in the series, you can pretty much pick up any of them and be good to go. And by the way, Strata is also a good read, darker in tone and much more science fiction than fantasy.
The final entry in this category is Ariel, by Steve Boyett. I read this in my late teen years, and just recently rediscovered it. It is the tale of a boy and his unicorn. But this book is much more post-apocalyptic than fairy tale. The world suffers a sudden change, when all technology ceases to work and fantastical creatures and magic become reality. Unicorns are rare and precious beings, and the Necromancer wants Ariel’s horn, even if it means killing her.
Boyett, after 20+ years of denying he ever would, finally wrote a sequel titled Elegy Beach. I really liked how he adjusted the world to take into account the technology differences between the times he wrote the books. Boyett also has become a DJ with one of the most successful podcasts on iTunes.
Category 2: Cats
We’ve done a whole blog post on cats before. But who can’t get enough of cats, right? I Can Has Cheezburger?: A LOLcat Colleckshun is a book you should read. I especially enjoy the pokemons one. kthxbai
Category 3: Paranormal
I started pretty early with the paranormal romances. I don’t read a lot of them, but a few series I have really enjoyed. Undead and Unwed, by MaryJanice Davidson, kicks of a 12 book series detailing the exploits of Betsy Taylor, a single, unemployed 30 year old who becomes Queen of the Vampires. This is a very fun read. Betsy is an irreverent character, and can do things that other vamps can, like go in the sun and swear properly. You will also learn a lot about women’s shoes by reading this series. Alas, my ultimate recommendation is read the first few and be done. They go off the rails later, and by off the rails I mean like falling into the Grand Canyon while on fire off the rails.
The story goes that Laurell K. Hamilton, who had a couple of novels out already, had difficulty in getting Guilty Pleasures published. The horror people said it was a mystery, and the mystery people said it was fantasy, and the fantasy people said it was horror, etc. Actually it is a crime noir style of book featuring Anita Blake, a woman who reanimates zombies for money and battles vampires on the side. Once it did get published there was no stopping it, as the Anita Blake series is in the 20s and still going. While the early volumes stayed true to the origins, up until the excellent Obsidian Butterfly, later ones took on a notably more sexual tone, for better or worse depending on your reading preferences. I prefer the early ones, that mix many elements together, giving an elegant look at the gritty undead underbelly of St Loius.
A lot of fantasy and paranormal series start small, as far as the monsters go. You find out in book one that there are vampires, and then come the werewolfs in book two, and then on to all sorts of other lycanthopes and fairies and ghosts and what have you. So one of the things I immediately liked about Kim Harrison’s Dead Witch Walking was that it was a world that already had all of those things out in the open. Rachel Morgan is a “runner”, essentially a bounty hunter for supernatural creatures. While she tends to get the job done, often aided by her vampire and pixie partners, things rarely go as planned. There is some Stephanie Plum influence here, and I mean that in a positive way. Plus the titles are mostly Clint Eastwood allusions.
Category 4: Token YA Book
I always enjoy finding a Young Adult novel that brings something fresh to the table. Faking Faith, by Jodie Bliss, is the story of teenage Dylan, who is ostracized at school after a sexting incident. She looks for refuge online, and is fascinated by the blogs of fundamentalist home schooled Christian girls. She invents an online persona in order to interact with these girls, who are so different from her, and takes things as far as to visit one of them. Of course her deceit is deceitful and has consequences. It is a surprisingly nonjudgmental book, considering the topics it covers, and gives insight into teens from a fresh angle.
Category 5: Nonfiction
Perhaps the thing that impressed me the most about Enemy at the Gates: The Battle for Stalingrad is the way it was researched. If I wanted to study the epic and important battle I would…well, I would read Enemy at the Gates. But other than that I would be doing a lot of online searching. When William Craig set out to chronicle the battle there was no Internet. It took him five years of studying archival materials and conducting interviews to produce this book, travelling to the Soviet Union (not such an easy things in the early 70s), Germany, Israel, and the UK. His writing is approachable without stinting on the historical accuracy. The Jude Law and Rachel Weisz movie about snipers at Stalingrad is of course fictionalized, but there are real events in the book that are crazier than Hollywood is.
And I suppose we must talk about that statue. 279 feet from the tip of the sword to the base of the feet and made with nearly 8000 tons of concrete, it is truly an engineering marvel. I find it interesting that it is not attached to the base, but is standing on its own two feet. The model used by the sculptor found that she was recognized by her resemblance to the finished product. I hope to see it in person one day.
Category 6: Short stories
I am not always keen on short stories. Sometimes it seems that just when I am getting into the story it ends. But there are some collections that I truly cherish. First off we have 20th Century Ghosts, by the magnificent Joe Hill. These are mostly horror stories, and the opener, “Best New Horror”, is pretty brutal. But get past that one and you will find a surprising variety of high quality short fiction. My favorite? “Voluntary Committal” perhaps, but I think each time I read the book I have a new favorite.
My next book has a title that is true and yet misleading in a way. Geektastic is a YA anthology with stories from a number of acclaimed authors. Yes, geeks are the recurring narrative theme. But the underlying theme here is acceptance. Many of the stories emphasize that no matter what our hobbies and obsessions might be, we are all people. At a con a Klingon (a girl) and a Jedi (a boy) meet, and their friends are horrified at this treason. The couple realizes how absurd that is and head off for coffee. A cheerleader enlists the help of geeks to boost her knowledge of Star Trek to impress her boyfriend, only to discover she likes some of this stuff more than he does. A star baton twirler moves to another state, only to find her skills don’t carry the same popularity at her new school, and so on. Good stuff.
Have you ever read a story, have no idea what is happening in it, yet can’t get enough of it? If not, then give “Magic for Beginners” a shot. The story appears in Kelly Link’s third story collection, Pretty Monsters. Fantastic fantastical writings she does. But don’t just take my word for it. So far eight of her stories have won major awards.
Category 7: Baseball
Is anything as nostalgic as baseball? And if you want to reminisce about baseball years gone by, your go to author is Roger Angell. Not only is he one of the greatest of all baseball writers, but he wrote about different baseball eras, so you can choose the one that best fits your mood. Or go with Once More Around the Park: A Baseball Reader, that collects some of his best writings from throughout the years. And then you can tell everyone about how back in your day things, and especially baseball, were so much better.
Category 8: Gillian Flynn
Back in August I finally read Flynn’s bestseller Gone Girl. It was on the shelf at the library at the time. Now, at the end of October, it has 333 holds on it. Ah, the power of cinema. Gone Girl was not her first book, nor was it the first one of hers I read. Sharp Objects was her first book, which I stuck into my horror books blog. Her second book, and the first I read, is Dark Places. This is the story of Libby Bray, who as a girl survived the night her brother massacred the rest of their family. As an adult, still carrying physical, mental and emotional scars of that horrible night, she reluctantly is drawn into an amateur sleuths attempts to prove her brother innocent. The secrets they unearth are surprising and lead to, aptly enough, dark places. Wonderful read, and lets hope that the movie version in production, starring Charlize Theron, lives up to it.
Hmm. Didn’t even get close to 3000 words. Must be losing my touch. Anyway, one of the nice things about Random Book Day for you, the reader, is that you can mention, suggest, or ridicule any book you want in the comments section.
Find all of these books in our library catalog here: https://fontana.nccardinal.org/eg/opac/results?bookbag=37759;page=0;locg=155;depth=0