Gateway Drugs: Fantasy

door opening onto poppiesIt’s been a while since we had an edition of Gateway Drugs over here on Geek Girl In Love.  This is the feature where we talk about what books you would recommend to someone who wants to try out a genre for the first time.  Today’s feature is on Fantasy.  Hop on the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter, and tell us what got you into fantasy, or what you’d recommend to someone who was trying out Fantasy for the very first time.

Here’s my pics for some things to try.  Let’s start with some obvious categories:

The Ultimate Fantasy Classic:  The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Please.  Like I’m not going to suggest Lord of the Rings.  Everyone reads Lord of the Rings.  start with the Hobbit, but be aware that it was written for a younger audience.  Frankly, I prefer the Hobbit.  I enjoy the simplicity of the storytelling.  But for the real stuff, you have to read the trilogy that follows.  By the way, to my complete astonishment, I loved the Peter Jackson film adaptation for LotR, although I was less thrilled by the first Hobbit movie.

It’s For Kids, but not Really:  C.S. Lewis, Phillip Pullman, and J.K. Rowling

This category also applies to The Hobbit.  Some of the most popular fantasy has kids as characters, and is marketed as being for kids, but has themes that attract adults.  The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, is of course incredibly important to the genre.  This series has strong Christian undertones which, as a child, bothered me not a whit.  Even as an adult, I’d argue that the only book in the series in which the Christian Allegory becomes obvious and invasive is in the last book in the series, The Last Battle.  I loathe The Last Battle and my ten-year old consultant agrees with me.  But the other books in the series are wonderful.

More recently, Phillip Pullman came out with the series His Dark Materials.  This series, which starts with The Golden Compass, tends to end up on children’s shelves, but I’d argue that it’s much more for teens and adults as the material is both intense in terms of violence and intense in terms of complicated themes.  Phillip Pullman is an atheist and just as Christian allegory shows up  in the Narnia books, there’s a lot of atheist allegory in the His Dark Materials Book – but not enough to be oppressive or mess up the story in a heavy-handed way.

And of course, let us not forget Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling.  J.K. Rowling released about one book a year for seven years, with the expectation that her audience would grow up with the books.  As a result, the first book feels very much like a book for kids age 8-10 but the last book deals with much darker stuff.  Anyone who says “The Harry Potter Books are for kids” clearly hasn’t read Book 7.

Not for Kids, Nope, Not At All:  Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Disclaimer:  I tried to read Game of Thrones.  I really did.  But I had been spoiled so I read the first chapter about Ned Stark’s happy family and became so horribly depressed that I gave it up.  The Game of Thrones phenomenon is huge thanks to the HBO series.  Game of Thrones took epic fantasy and made it gritty, realistic, and political.  Expect lots of violence, lots of sex, and lots of scheming.

OK, that’s the basics.  But what are some less obvious fantasy choices for a newcomer?  Here’s a handful of titles that are marketed for adults and which have attracted a lot of attention both within and without the genre community:

Modern Gems

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

This is a modern fantasy, in which a man, Shadow, becomes involved in the lives of the Gods that people brought to America with them when they emigrated.  The book is famous for its clever and poetical premise, its attachment to the American landscape, and its language, which is beautiful but modern, unlike the ornate language of most high fantasy.

War for the Oaks, by Emma Bull

This is one of my favorite books, ever.  One of the first urban fantasy books, it tells the story of rock musician Edie who becomes involved in the Faerie Wars.  The sense of day-to-day life and the sense of magic and magical creatures are equally vivid.  This book also features one of my favorite romances.  It’s exciting and funny and scary and exhilarating.  You can find my full-length review of this novel at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed

Fantasy has a reputation of being by and about white people by Saladin Ahmed removes fantasy from the realm of European mythology and sets his story in a fantastical version of the Middle East.   Great characters, great world-building, great plot.  you can find my full-length review here on Geek girl In Love.

 What got you into fantasy, and what would you suggest to a friend?

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Gateway Drugs: The Humor Edition

door opening onto poppiesIn January, February, and March, the Friday Book Club is looking at books by humorists.  In honor of this, I give you Gateway Drugs:  The Humor Edition!

Humor is personal and everyone likes something different.  These humorists made some kind of lasting mark on literature with their humor writing.

I’m splitting this into three sections:  The Classics, Those Wacky Brits, and The Crazy Americans.  I have read things by authors from other countries, but it suddenly occurs to me that I haven’t read much humor writing by authors from Africa, South America, Australia, or Asia.  If you have a favorite humorist, please share in the comments, especially if they are from one of the parts of the world I’ve neglected.  Some of this neglect is because in general I’m just not as well-read when it comes to places other than Northern America and the British Isles and some may be because humor is difficult to translate.  I’m not specifically listing Shakespeare’s comedies because you all know he’s funny, right?  RIGHT?

Really, to try to keep the focus on novels is silly.  Humor writing blurs all over the place – people read the plays, they act out scenes from novels, stand up comedians write down their sketches, and let’s not forget the joys of humorous poetry.  In addition, some of the best humor is often found embedded in other genres.  Joss Whedon is particularly famous for blending humor, drama, and horror.  But I’m sticking to humorous novels here with one exception purely to narrow the field – which is huge.  These aren’t necessarily my favorites so much as they are a small sample of selections that I think have had a big influence on genre.

The Classics

Lysistrata, by Aristophanes

Our one play on the list, this is one of the earliest “battle of the sexes” stories and one of the earliest works in which humor is used to make a serious point.  In this play, originally performed in 411BC in Greece, them women of Greece refuse to have sex with their husbands until their husbands end the Peloponnesian War.  This play is poignant, funny, and gleefully risqué in it’s wordplay.  Sample line:  How true the saying: ‘Tis impossible to live with the baggages, impossible to live without ’em.”

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes

Influential, funny, and sad, this is sometimes considered to be the first novel ever written (certainly it’s one of the earliest and most influential novels).  Everyone interprets is differently but everyone agrees this novel is touching and important.  Sample line:  “Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.”

Candide, by Voltaire

Why, hello, satire.  This novel of snark and sarcasm follows the misadventures of Candide, an optimist who ends up having all kinds of terrible things happen to him until he becomes a pragmatist.  Voltaire uses allegory to take on the establishment, much like Jonathon Swift did in Gulliver’s Travels, another incredibly influential humor novel (although modern readers tend to take it more as straight fantasy and miss the jokes).  Sample line:  “Optimism,” said Cacambo, “What is that?” “Alas!” replied Candide, “It is the obstinacy of maintaining that everything is best when it is worst.”

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

The most influential romantic comedy since Shakespeare, Jane Austen launched a genre that remains beloved today.  Sample line:  ““For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”

Those Wacky Brits

The pinnacle of British humor is surely Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  As far as modern novels go, I give you:

The Jeeves stories and novels, by P.G. Wodehouse

The stories of aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his valet, Jeeves, give us some of the funniest wordplay and metaphors, and some of the craziest slapstick comedy, ever.  Also, they permanently defined two archetypes – the twit of nobel birth and the servant with the level head who solves all problems.  A whole parade of capable butlers followed in Jeeves wake (my personal favorites being Alfred, from Batman, and J.A.R.V.I.S., from Iron Man, but the list is not limited to science fiction and fantasy).  And Wodehouse’s use of metaphor, simile and pun has never quite been matched although many have tried!  Sample line:  “The voice of love seemed to call to me, but it was a wrong number”.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

I’m not sure how to define the influence of the Hitchhiker books expect to say that I simply can’t imagine books without this series.  Its wacky, bizarre, sardonic look at life influenced, well, everybody.  Sample line, ““For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”

The Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett created the sprawling, loosely connected series of books based in the fantasy Discworld universe.  Each book is a satire of a different topic.  For example, one of my favorite of his books, Maskerade, is a parody of Phantom of the Opera that turns into a loving deconstruction of the insane world of theater.  His wordplay has influenced writers both in and out of science fiction and fantasy genre.  For instance, Jennifer Crusie, who is best known for contemporary romance, cites him as an influence).  Sample line: “But that was just it – hate was exactly the right word. Hate is a force of attraction. Hate is just love with its back turned.”

Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding

Love it or hate it, Bridget Jone’s Diary sparked a new genre, rather insultingly nicknamed “ChickLit”.  This modern take on Pride and Prejudice launched a new genre and a million conversations about modern women.  Sample line:  “I looked at him nonplussed. I realized that I have spent so many years being on a diet that the idea that you might actually need calories to survive has been completely wiped out of my consciousness. Have reached point where believe nutritional idea is to eat nothing at all, and that the only reason people eat is because they are so greedy they cannot stop themselves from breaking out and ruining their diets.”

Those Crazy Americans

The Adventures of  Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Mark Twain had a glorious literary career during which he made fun of pretty much everybody.  His book Tom Sawyer painted a picture of growing up in small town, pre-Civil War America that very much defined the ways people picture that period of time and way of life.  But nowhere was he more scathing or his legacy more controversial and enduring than in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in which a runaway outcast boy travels down the Mississipi River with a runaway slave.  Sample line: “Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And hain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”

Catch 22, by Joseph Heller

This dark satire shows that war is not only cruel but also ridiculous.  If you are a fan of films like M.A.S.H. and the literary works of Kurt Vonnegut, you owe a shootout to Catch-22.  It also coined the phrase “Catch 22”), as seen in this sample quote:  “There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”

Rubyfruit Jungle, Rita Mae Brown

Rubyfruit Jungle is a ground-breaking coming of age story (published in 1973) about a lesbian girl’s transition from being a child in the South to an aspiring author in the big city.  It’s explicit and ribald and launched so many coming of age stories that people sometimes criticize the book for being cliche, forgetting that this book originated the elements that became cliche later on.  It’s not unlike a lesbian Sex in the City.  Sample line:  “Whoever heard of a neurotic frog? Where do humans get off thinking they’re the pinnacle of evolution?”

Gateway Drugs: Anime (The YA version)

door opening onto poppiesThis month’s Gateway Drugs is brought to you by my thirteen year old girl partner in crime, who shall henceforth be referred to as Meiko.  I know nothing about anime so I called in an expert!  Without further ado, here’s the words of our Young Adult anime guru, Meiko:

First I asked Meiko for some background.  Meiko, what is anime?

Anime is a style of drawing and japanese animation.  It can be about anything, science fiction, or fantasy, or everyday life.  I prefer the ones that are comedy.

So Meiko, what should I be watching?

Acchi Kocchi

It’s about a girl who has a crush on a boy and is nervous about it.  It’s something you could sit down and watch with your family.

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Going Home Club

It’s about a girl trying to find out how much fun they can have in their club before they have to go home.  It’s a comedy anime.  It is suitable for all ages.

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Attack on Titan

This one if more for older kids, like thirteen and up.  The titans come down and try to eat people.  I don’t get that one, but my uncle likes it, and you might like it if you like science fiction.

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Sailor Moon

It’s mainly about a girl who meets a cat that can talk.  A bunch of girls get together because they have superpowers, and they try to protect a princess.  This could probably be for any age.

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Black Butler

My friend likes this one.  It’s about a boy who signs a contract with a demon, and now the demon is the boy’s butler.  But to get the demon butler, the boy gave up his soul.  My friend thinks it’s interesting because it’s different from most animes.  Most animes aren’t about angels and demons combined – or butlers.  This is more for middle or high school kids or adults.

Ciel_Phantomhive_-_Kuroshitsuji_Black_Butler_

Angel Beats

It’s about people fighting gods because they think their lives are unfair.  I like it because it’s interesting.  If people die they come back to life.  My other uncle recommended it to me.   It’s also for grades eight and up I think.

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Inuyasha

This is about a guy with a demon dog and a girl who falls into a well, into an alternate universe.  She frees the demon dog.  She and the dog have to find all the shards of a crystal because if it gets in the hands of evil, the world will be destroyed.  This one is good for ages thirteen and fourteen.

Inuyasha characters

So to everyone else online, what are your thoughts?  What anime should I be watching?  It’s a whole new world out there.

Gateway Drugs: The Horror Edition

door opening onto poppiesFor this month’s Gateway Drugs, I bring you a sampling of some influential horror novels.  These are good books to read if you want to try the genre out – they are also good books if you want to understand the genre.  I tried to pick books that had a lasting influence on genre.  I’ve also steered away from most horror/sci fi and horror/vampires and werewolves and zombies (oh my!).  But I made a couple of exceptions, and of course a lot of horror crosses over into other genres.  For instance, Frankenstein is easily as much science fiction as it is horror.  So dive under the covers with a flashlight and celebrate Halloween with:

The Classics

Any collection of stories by Edgar Allan Poe

Frankenstein:  by Mary Shelley

Dracula:  by Bram Stoker

Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde:  by Robert Louis Stevenson

These stories include gore and purely psychological horror.  They are a vital influence on not only horror but all literature that came after the Victorian Age, including thoughts on sex, death, gender, science, and religion. Honestly, even if you have zero interest in horror, if you want to be well-read, you have to read these – I’m sorry, but that’s the deal.  I’m sure it’s a law but I’m too busy reading to go look it up.  And read some H.P. Lovecraft, too!

Modern Horror

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

This is a ghost story/haunted house story that combines scares with psychological horror.  I also recommend We Have Always Lived in the Castle but it’s not as widely influential as Hill House.

I am Legend:  by Richard Matheson

I’m purposely avoiding a lot of vampire stuff (we’ll have to do a whole separate Gateway edition about vampires one of these days).  I made an exception for Dracula and for I Am Legend because they influenced literature beyond the depiction of vampires.  In the case of I Am Legend, which is a remarkably unpleasant but important book, Matheson made a mark not so much on vampire stories but on apocalyptic stories in horror and in science fiction.  It’s also notable for having an anti-hero and a twist that reveals just how anti the hero actually is.

The Shining by Stephen King

I’m hard pressed to pick one Stephen King book but I think The Shining made a broader mark on literature in general than any of his other work.  There’s plenty of gore in this book but the scariest moments tend to involve the mind.  Few things can top the impact of finding out just what Jack has been typing all this time.  And it’s not just a scary story but a true tragedy, as in a Greek style tragedy.  Stephen King never lets you forget the human impact of what happens.

John Dies at the End by David Wong

This book is new enough that I guess I can’t say whether it will be influential or not, but when I read it it felt new – like the first horror novel of the Internet age.  It’s gross and crass and scary and funny (and really gross- I have to confess that I skipped some bits).  It’s not for the faint of heart.  But it feels like a crazy book that reflects horror from a uniquely modern standpoint.  And did I mention that it’s funny?

A Great Book About Horror

Danse Macabre by Stephen King

A perfect primer for horror including all the mediums (a particularly horrible radio show is mentioned).  Fantastic.

Gateway Drugs: The Mystery Edition

door opening onto poppiesI like mysteries, but not for the usual reasons.  I usually don’t care that much about whodunnit.  What I enjoy about mysteries is that the format allows you, the reader, to get a cutaway view of life in an unusual time or place.  If you want to try out the mystery genre, here’s a variety of settings and styles plus a couple of classics to get you going.  Prepare for your voyage to:

Saudi Arabia

Finding Nouf, City of Veils, and Kingdom of Strangers:  by Zoe Ferraris.

This trilogy follows two fascinating detectives.  Nayir ash-Sharqi is a desert guide and tracker.  He is deeply devout.  Katya Hijazi is a lab worker attempting to build a career in a patriarchal society.  The mysteries in these three novels are compelling, but the layered, conflicted, complex, and deeply sympathetic characters and their struggles to navigate a complex society are absolutely riveting.

Cover of Finding Nouf

Victorian England

The Face of a Stranger:  by Anne Perry

This is the first book in the “Monk Series”.  It introduces the character of William Monk (no relation to TV show Monk, which came later).  Monk is a police detective in London who has lost his memory (or portions of his memory).  He works with Hester Latterly, a nurse who served in the Crimean War under Florence Nightingale.  Hester is a compelling character – prickly but compassionate, and constantly frustrated in her efforts to bring the reforms Florence Nightingale instituted in the Crimea to the London hospital.  It’s also fascinating to see Victorian life from so many vantage points – servants, the aristocracy, professionals of both high and low regard.

Cover of Face of a Stranger

Los Angeles in the late 1940’s – late 1960’s

Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosely

This is the first book in the “Easy Rawlins” series, which describes the life of a black man who becomes a private detective in L.A.  The first book takes place in 1948 and the last in 1967.  This series has a unique voice and viewpoint.  The mysteries are convoluted and suspenseful, but what interests me most is the glimpses of daily life from the point of a black man during a turbulent period in history.

cover of Devil in a Blue Dress

And for adventures in different genres and styles try:

Literary:  

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Science Fiction/Fantasy/Speculative Fiction:

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Funny

Two for the Dough by Janet Evanovich

Note:  I realize you might want to start with the first book, One for the Money, but it has a sequence of such sadistic violence that it soured the whole book.  So if you are purely looking for laughs, try the second book instead.

For Kids:  Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys – they were good back in the day, and they’re still good now!

And let’s not forget…..

The Classics!

The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Dame Agatha Christie

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Gateway Drugs: The Science Fiction Edition

door opening onto poppiesIt’s time for Gateway Drugs – and this month we’re looking at science fiction.  The joy of science fiction is that it encompasses so many styles of writing.  In popular imagination, science fiction means Star Wars and Star Trek – stories with lasers, spaceships, and aliens, and a lot of action.  God knows, I cherish those things.  But there are all kinds of writing within the science fiction genres – mystery, romance, comedy, tragedy.  There’s space opera and there’s small-scale, character-driven, philosophical stories.  you name it, science fiction has it.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy

Let’s start with an anthology that has a little bit of everything.

The Latest Edition of The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Latest Edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy

Here’s what the author Connie Willis has to say about The Year’s Best:

My second big influence was The Year’s Best SF&F.  This was the 1950’s, when Judith Merrill, and Robert P. Mills, and Anthony Boucher were editors of this collection, which came out every year.  I’d read a Philip K. Dick story, and then a Theodore Sturgeon story, and then a Frederick Brown story, and then a Shirley Jackson story.  It was an amazing experience, not just because the stories were amazing, but because I saw this vast variety of things you could do.  You could have a highly experimental story, and then a rip-roaring adventure, and then a horror story, and then you’d have a sweet little romance – all in one book.  Had I just read novels, I don’t think I would have stuck with it.

One of the first stories I ever sold was a romantic comedy.  It was called “Capra Corn” – a terrible title.  I knew that within science fiction, I would write anything I wanted to.  I thought, I can write a sad story and then a really fun story, and nobody said a word.  I thought, I can do anything I want!  That’s why I had so much fun, and why I’ve stuck with the genre all this time.

R Is For Rocket, Ray Bradbury

r-is-for-rocket

I discovered science fiction when I asked my dad for something to read.  He showed me his collection of Ray Bradbury and Issac Asimov short stories.  Not only did those books get me to read science fiction, but according to a lot of rooms full of current sci-fi authors, those two guys got ALL of us to read science fiction, long before we knew what science fiction was.  In R is for Rocket,  you can read about spaceflight, and sea monsters, and time travel.  You can read about the emotional problems that come with leaving everything you know on Earth behind to colonize Mars.  You can read “The Sound of Summer Running”, which is about a boy who wants new tennis shoes, and isn’t science fiction at all.  I also recommend Bradbury’s S is for Space.

I, Robot, by Issac Asimov

I, Robot

This collection of stories includes a mystery, and a psychological mind game, and a cave-in on another planet.  So again – if you like action, it’s here, but the core of the stories is about how people work, and how robots might work someday, and how robots and people would interact.  The stories are funny, and touching, and scary, and sad, and heart-warming.  I don’t care how much you say you don’t like science fiction – if you don’t find at least some of these stories to be a least a little bit interesting, your soul is dead.  I’m not judging you – simply stating a fact.

But let’s say you want to read a novel.  OK, here’s a list:

If you enjoy love stories, try these:

A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis

Rivited, by Meljean Brook

The Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord

If you like spaceships and lasers, and politics on far-flung planets, try:

A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card

Dune, by Frank Herbert

If you like to laugh:

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

If you like to think deep thoughts and be intellectually and emotionally challenged, try these:

The Sparrow, by Maria Doria Russell

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

Kindred, by Octavia Butler

OK, that should keep us all busy until next month!  What are your favorite science fiction books?

Gateway Drugs: The Romance Edition

door opening onto poppiesMy greatest joy in life (well, one of the greatest) is when someone says, “Oh, I haven’t read much romance.  What should I read?”  This is because, like any other shameless drug pusher, I have a stash of gateway drugs all ready for you – books to show you how diverse, smart, funny, and moving romance can be.

So, you want to try out the romance novel genre?  Try these out:

Contemporary:  Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie

Bet Me is moving and hilarious and sexy and wonderful.  Interestingly, however, I’ve loaned this book to many friends, all of whom liked it enough to read another book by the same author, but one called me later to say, “Bet Me was good, but I just finished Faking It, and it was even better!” and another person said the same thing about Fast Women.

Romance is all about emotion, and different books hit different people’s emotional buttons very differently.  Bet Me deals a lot with body size acceptance and trust.  Faking It is perfect for anyone who feels they have to pretend to be something they are not in order to make other people happy.  Fast Women deals with the aftermath of divorce.  The books have solid emotional heft to them, but they feel light because they are so funny and joyful.  Crusie’s books are notable for featuring a variety of happy ever afters (marriage, dating, contented single life, babies, no babies), heroines of various sizes and ages, and fast, witty dialogue.

Science Fiction:  A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold

A Regency romance and crazy comedy set in space.  Features the greatest dinner party ever written (Jennifer Crusie tends to feature insane dinners in her books, too).  Part of a series, but you can jump right into this book – I did.  Then you’ll want to read every thing Bujold has ever written – and she’s written quite a bit.  Do not miss this!

Steampunk:  Riveted, by Meljean Brook

Steampunk is something of an esoteric genre, and yet I can’t imagine anyone not liking Riveted, regardless of their interest in steampunk, or, for that matter, romance.  This book has wonderful world-building, beautiful use of language, and tons of action.  Riveted is part of the Iron Seas series, and you can jump right into it.  The first book in the series, The Iron Duke, is also excellent, but features a brooding, domineering hero who I, personally, can’t stand even though I think his character is well-written and developed.  The hero in Riveted is a kind, brilliant scientist who is thoughtful, respectful, good at communicating, and also quite the action guy.  Love him, love the heroine, love the setting, LOVE this book.

Historical:  anything by Courtney Milan

Really.  Anything.  She’s wonderful.  Look out for some serious angst, but also humor and humanity.   My second choice would be the hilarious Regency novel What Happens In London, by Julia Quinn, which features some of the best, and funniest, dialogue I’ve ever had the immense pleasure of reading.

And the runners-up:  

For crazy old school cheesy adventure:  The Windflower, by Tom and Sharon Curtis.  This insane and delightful book features the convoluted adventures of a group of pirates.  They have a pet pig named Dennis.  Either that sells you on the book (which is a historical, sort of) or it doesn’t.

For seriously well-done angst that will make you cry:  Flowers From the Storm, by Laura Kinsale.  I sobbed over this book.  I also cackled hysterically when I discovered that the original cover of this serious, delicately written historical features Fabio.  Fabio!  Try to forgive it.

I’m planning to run several posts along these lines, so if you have suggestions for gateway drug books in the genres of mystery, science fiction, YA, and science writing, let us know!