Today I wanted to share some book recommendations. Between the time I spend on the subway (thank you, MTA, for my 2 hour commute) and at the gym, I generally plow through a book every week or so. Some are mind candy, fluff enjoyed and forgotten. Some are interesting, if not entirely successful. Some prove a slog and lie abandoned on my bedside table. Some are awesome.
Here are three that I found interesting or awesome enough to want to share:
Acacia by David Anthony Durham. Genre: fantasy. 753 pages (and the first in a series).
It should be said upfront that I’m a fan of epic fantasy, especially the kind that dwells in rich, believable worlds where “good” and “evil” are relative, complex concepts and elves and dwarves have little place. Acacia hits all these marks, and then some. Following the struggles of four royal children scattered and in hiding after their father’s kingdom is conquered, Acacia is (in my view) about the relationship between compromise and power. The characters are all sketched with deft lines and are both sympathetic and unsympathetic, strong and weak. The “villains” are frequently humanized and the “heroes” sometimes make cruel or foolish choices. Best of all, Durham’s background as an historian grounds the epic sweep of this tale in details that feel real. You almost believe the kingdom of Acacia existed and the wars waged over it truly happened. More please.
Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane. Genre: Urban Fantasy. 346 pages (and the first in a series)
I haven’t read much Urban Fantasy until lately. Frankly, I thought it was all werewolf or vampire porn. But, it seems I was wrongly conflating Urban Fantasy with Paranormal Romance, and the ghost-infested world of Downside in Stacia’s Kane’s books has made me a convert. Unholy Ghosts (and the follow-up novels) are urgent, gritty, ugly, and addictive. There was some controversy about the book when it first came out, largely because Kane’s protagonist, Chess, is a drug addict. Here’s a good summary of the controversy. As others have pointed out, the flawed protagonist is one of the novel’s great strengths. Chess’s addiction isn’t a side feature of her character, but (as it would in real life) steers her choices (usually bad ones) as she tries to balance her job debunking haunting claims for the Church of Real Truth with her life in the gangland underbelly of Downside. Awesome characters abound and Chess herself is as often frustrating as she is heroic.
Finch by Jeff Vandermeer. Genre: Steampunk? Urban Fantasy? Fantasy thriller? I really have no idea. 334 pages, (and a stand alone novel).
This is probably one of the weirdest, most compelling books I’ve read in a long time. I’m not sure how to describe it, or if I even liked it. But the world Vandermeer created is unforgettable. The story takes place in the ruins of the city of Ambergris after it has slowly been consumed by the invasion of a fungal species. These “gray caps” have taken control, colonizing not only the streets and buildings with new fungal structures, but also the city’s human inhabitants. Revolution smolders, despair blankets everything. Our hero is John Finch, a Detective grudgingly working for the gray caps. As he tries to solve a murder, he is drawn further into the conspiracies and mysteries surrounding the city’s past and future, as well as his own. The complex threads of the plot didn’t ultimately cohere for me, but the world and characters were so fantastic that it really didn’t matter.
Okay, that’s three from me. How about you? What books have you read lately and loved? Share!