The Books I Recommend More Than Any Others – Part 3

Here they are, the final ten.

When I decided to list my top thirty in alphabetical order by author, I thought that might eliminate the need to organize the books from bestest best favourite to one of my favourites (or however you’d label the books below number one). But the truth is, for as much as I have LOVED all of the books listed thus far, I’ve been looking forward to talking about these ten. Many of them really are my bestest best favourites.

The best of the best?

Okay, enough rambling. On with the books!

I am Legend, Richard Matheson

I quite enjoyed the movie starring Will Smith and had long wanted to read the novella that inspired it. Now that I’ve read it, I can confidently say the book is better. But mostly because it’s different. Really, all they have in common is the title, the main character, and elements of situation (a post-apocalyptic world).

I liked the way the novella is framed. It’s a lot more thoughtful, almost philosophical. Especially that last line. That interpretation of the title also differs from the movie, and I prefer it for the quieter and bittersweet power it gives.

But also, I prefer the horror of the novella. It’s scarier and much more subtle.

Dangerous Women, edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Most anthologies are hit or miss; this one is more hit. The stories I enjoyed the most are:

  • Abercrombie’s “Some Desperado,” which served as a great intro to the collection
  • “My Heart is Either Broken” by Megan Abbott
  • Carrie Vaughn’s fantastic piece of historical fiction, “Raisa Stepanova”
  • “Wrestling Jesus” started me on a quest to read anything and everything by Joe R. Lansdale
  • “Neighbors” by Megan Lindholm might have been my favourite story. It was just so well written and complete
  • “I Know How to Pick ‘Em” continued my affair by Lawrence Block
  • “Second Arabesque, Very Slowly” by Nancy Kress was amazing. Perhaps the best in the collection
  • Finally, “Pronouncing Doom” by S.M. Stirling had me wondering why I never got back into the Emberverse books
Swan Song, Robert McCammon

I’m not sure there are words enough to describe and share my love for this book. It’s magnificent. I adore everything about it. Swan Song a classic of the genre and a wonderful capsule of the time in which it was written.

My favourite aspect, however, has to be McCammon’s collection of heroes. Two women and a Black man. I loved these characters—who they are and what they represent. I also loved that the villains were all of a particular type. This book is as much a statement on the importance of diversity as it is on learning to live in harmony with nature.

If you decide to dive in, get it on audio. Tom Stechschulte’s narration is superb.

Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry

My first McMurtry. I’ve since read several of his books and they’re all wonderful. But you never forget your first. Nor will I ever forget waiting, for a thousand pages, for a certain character to die.

The edition I read began with a preface from the author that contained what I figured was a pretty big spoiler. Apparently, McMurtry was referring to something that happened in the made-for-TV mini-series, which I will NEVER watch, because after preparing myself for ten days for the worst of the worst to happen, and getting to the end of the book with that character still miraculously alive, I decided to quite while I was ahead.

A lot of other characters didn’t make it to the end of the book. Some deaths were inevitable, even the one I really wasn’t expecting, and some were a quiet sort of surprise. In fact, it’d be easy to subtitle this book “Living and Dying in the West.” It almost reads like a diary of a sort, even though the point of view shuffles back and forth so we get a comment from everyone. For ten days, I lived the lives of these cowboys—and what lives they were.

Lonesome Dove is also notable in that it’s pretty much wholly responsible for me wanting to write a Western. Without it, To See the Sun might never have seen the light of day.

The Dark Defiles, Richard K. Morgan

Morgan can be difficult to read. He pulls no punches, and his characters aren’t always likable. But his stories are always worth the effort—as are his heroes. They get the job done in a way that will leave you breathless.

This series (The Steel Remain, The Cold Commands, and The Dark Defiles) wasn’t always the most pleasant read. The violence is brutal and the themes often quite dark. But I loved the ending, and what I presumed to be Ringil’s fate.

Even more, the coda afterward that hinted at Arceth’s epilogue (and maybe the fulfillment of a prophecy), and the circumstances surrounding the birth of a certain baby. I shed a few tears throughout. I laughed, too. I stood silent sentry at every funeral. But that last chapter of the coda. I pretty much lost it there as Morgan tied up every loose end and brought us back to the beginning.

Obviously, I recommend the entire series, but this last book is the one that has stayed with me most intently.

The Legend of Drizzt, R.A. Salvatore

Ah, Drizzt. I met him by accident and have since journeyed through nearly forty books by his side. When I consider all of the books that so far make up his legend, several stand out:

  • The Ghost King is perhaps the finest book R.A. Salvatore has written (you can read my thoughts on the entire Transitions trilogy here)
  • The Companions is probably the most rewarding for fans (I reviewed this one too!)
  • The Thousand Orcs (and the whole trilogy) goes where the Forgotten Realms has not gone before
  • The Sea of Swords is the pirate book of my heart
  • and The Crystal Shard has a special place as the book that introduced us all to the drow who would direct Salvatore’s career

There are too many moments to reminisce over. Too much lore to compress into a single paragraph. For as long as Salvatore keeps writing about Drizzt, I will keep reading.

Hyperion, Dan Simmons
So. Much. Goodness.

Hyperion is an absolutely fascinating and enthralling book that reads like a collection of themed stories, each more compelling than the last, as the central plot is illuminated. The writing is poetic and at times simply astounding. I found myself reading paragraphs over and over just to continue absorbing the words.

There is little else I can write that really does Hyperion justice. I feel as if I’d need several degrees (in various disciplines) to truly discuss what the book means. But I knew as soon as I finished that it would end up in my top ten all-time favourites.

I enjoyed the rest of the Cantos as well, particularly the final book, which has been known to stir up much debate among readers. To me it served as a natural evolution of Simmons’ ideas and themes as well as sparking my own desire to write about such environments and societies.

Glasshouse, Charles Stross

With this book, Charles Stross established himself as one of my favourite authors. Previously, I’d had a hard time immersing myself in his stories and actually liking his characters. I keep picking up his books, however, as I like his concepts. Then I read Saturn’s Children.

The mixture of hard science and futuristic culture with a treatise on what it is to be human fascinated me. I loved the concept. And the author’s sense of humour made the characters leap off the page. The main character, Freya, isn’t entirely loveable; she has her faults. But that’s the point of a good book, isn’t it? To take a character and have them evolve.

This is exactly what happens in Glasshouse. The novel is an adventure story, an exploration of a possible future with all sorts of scientific concepts that are nothing short of awesome, a comment on our own history and fallibility as a species and culture, a summation of the history of a universe created by Charles Stross and, finally, a love story. I liked Robin (the main character) at the beginning of the book; I loved him at the end. He discovered not only himself (by recovering his memories) but who he was as a person. And then, he evolved. It was fascinating to see who he became.

I’ve never understood why Glasshouse is the least popular of Stross’s books. To me, it’s his best. But having read many of his others, I heartily recommend all of them. Particularly on audio.

Read my full review of Glasshouse here.

The Force, Don Winslow

So many of my favourite books have cool stories about how I connected with them. The year The Force was published, I visited Manhattan and couldn’t help noticing the promo posters for the book. They were everywhere. I had never heard of Don Winslow and had no idea what the book was about. I was a little jealous of his marketing budget, though! Later that year, a friend of mine read it and immediately messaged me to tell me to read it too. As is my habit, I checked the library for a copy and put myself on a twenty-week-long waiting list. Then I looked into other books by Don Winslow and picked out The Power of the Dog. Um, wow. Don Winslow quickly found a place on my author watchlist and while I waited for my turn to read The Force, I worked through a bit more of his backlist.

My Goodreads review for The Force reads: Holy sh*t. What a ride. Just… wow. All the stars for this one. Now I need fluff. Stat.

I’m not sure I can add much to that. It’s an amazing book. As thoroughly researched as the Border trilogy, but tighter. I also loved that the book stands so well alone. It’s rare to read something these days that doesn’t need a sequel or a series.

I have since bought copies of The Force for several people, including my dad, and I’m looking forward to the movie, particularly as I have learned Matt Damon is attached to the project (with James Mangold directing). I’m also eagerly awaiting the release of The Power of the Dog, which has just scooped up a best director award at the Venice Film Festival.

Cold City, F. Paul Wilson

I met Repairman Jack in much the same ways as I met Drizzt: quite by accident. In both instances, I described a book to a friend, a book I couldn’t remember the name of, and they told me what they thought it was, thus launching me into two long-running series I can’t imagine not having ever read!

I often recommend Repairman Jack to my friends. The trilogy I started with remains my favourite, however, even though I read them out of order. Cold City is the first of three prequel novels Wilson wrote later on. It and the subsequent two novels tell the story of how Jack became Repairman Jack. The trilogy as a whole shows how a story can be broken into three parts even while each installment works. More, though, if you’re a Repairman Jack fan, the character development within is essential.

So, that’s it! The books I recommend more than any others. Limiting myself to only thirty books meant I skipped a lot of books I absolutely adore but don’t often recommend for one reason or another. They’re a little different, perhaps problematic in some way, haven’t aged well, might be too dense for someone new to the genre, or only appeal to fans. (There’s another blog post in there somewhere, isn’t there?)

Given how much I love talking about books—particularly those I enjoyed reading—I could slice and dice the list in many different ways. But the thirty books I’ve talked about here are all superb, which is why I’ve bought multiple copies of most of them to pass along to friends. Why I own multiple copies in multiple formats myself.

My friends might groan when I start, for the twenty-hundredth time, to talk about Hyperion (or any book on this list). But once they’ve read it, they understand. As Stephen King is quoted as saying, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” Magic shouldn’t be hoarded. In sharing my favourites, I’m sharing that magic with everyone.

(links to be activated as I post the rest of this series)

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Published by Kelly Jensen

Writer of love stories. Bibliophile. Gamer. Hiker. Cat herder. Waiting for the aliens. 👽 🏳️‍🌈

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