I know, I’ve fallen behind on this. I have the list of books I want to rec each month, just haven’t had the time to write up the info. But I’m almost there, and for this installment you get two months for the price of one!
Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay. Okay, okay, you know GGK’s my favorite author evah, so I was predisposed to love this book. But I’ve loved some of his more than others, and this one’s toward the top of the list. What I love is how he immerses the reader into the characters—so often, I feel like I know them, even in just a few pages—and the world. For those of you who haven’t read him, what he does is take a historic time period and creates a very similar fantasy world. Characters may be based on real historic people—but he’s explained that he doesn’t want to write a historical novel and put words in people’s mouths. It’s his way of exploring that time and place and those events in history. The fantasy/magic in Under Heaven is subtle—it’s not dragons and wizards—so don’t expect that going in. Also, it’s a big book, and gorgeously written, not something you’ll want to skim, so block out the time to savor it.
Hyperbole and a Half. Hyperbole and a Half is a web comic, and it’s…well, there are a couple I’ve read repeatedly, and each time, by the end I’m crying with laughter. The artwork is crude but amazingly deft—those little stick figures have real emotion and reaction in their triangular faces—but it’s her stories that are the gems. She mostly relates scenes from her childhood, dipping into how her childlike brain interpreted a situation and made decisions, but told with an adult’s perspective. Does that make any sense? I don’t know! All I know is that in November, I went back to the very first page of the Hyperbole and a Half blog, and I read it all the way through to the present. (In the beginning she just tells funny stories; the cartoons come later and really are the icing on the cake.) My personal favorites are “This is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult,” “The Party,” and “The Year Kenny Loggins Ruined Christmas”. Paaaarp!
Ashes and Light, Karen L. McKee. I had the privilege of copyediting this book, which was fantastic because it’s something I might never have picked up otherwise (except maybe for the fact that the author is a writer-friend). A romantic suspense set in modern Afghanistan? Really? NY publishing just wasn’t ready for that (she got great “we love it but the subject matter scares us”-type rejections), and that’s NY publishing’s loss. Also, McKee knows her stuff—she’s a world traveler and has visited Afghanistan. Romantic, suspenseful, and in an unusual and exotic location. Yum.
Jukebox stories, Dean Wesley Smith. Over the years, Smith has written and published a number of stories set in the same bar with the same basic premise that’s explained at the very beginning of each story (so, this is not a spoiler, ‘kay?): There’s a jukebox that has the ability to send a listener back in time to when a particular song had meaning for him. And when he’s back there, he has the length of the song to change things if he chooses. We all have a moment we regret, right? Or a moment we look back on and say, at the very least, what if I’d done X instead of Y? Smith explores this idea in each story, often to heart-wrenching results. Some characters chose to change the past, for better or worse; others don’t. I’ve been wanting to read these for years, and Smith is now publishing them online. Each week he’s publishing a free story on his website (some Jukebox stories, some not), so keep an eye there; you can also buy the rest of them as e-books via the usual venues (Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc.). Also, here’s a link to an e-book of a collection of five of the stories. I suspect he'll have a paperback of them out soon!