Favorite Books

Hello and welcome. I’ve been writing since 1991, but long before I ever thought of writing my own stories, I loved to read other people’s. On this page are some of my favorites, old and new.

Recently enjoyed

These are a few of the books that I have read relatively recently and loved.

  • The Books of the Raksura, by Martha Wells, beginning with The Cloud Roads. I discovered these books in July 2020 and devoured all seven in short order. The worldbuilding is superb, but the characters are even better. (I love Moon! Moon forever!)
  • Mindtouch, by M. C. A. Hogarth, a science fiction story of compassion, cookies, companionship. I can’t remember the last time I found something so softly moving.
  • Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch, an urban fantasy/mystery/detective series. I love the narrative voice: dryly witty, riveting at the critical junctures, and, on occasion, deeply moving. I love that the books have an excellent series-spanning plot arc, yet are each separately satisfying. I love the central character, Peter Grant, and his boss, Nightingale. The books have a particular appeal to me both because I grew up in London, and because, like Peter Grant, I am mixed-race.

Fantasy and science fiction

  • The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. If I had to name my favorite book in the world, then nine days out of ten, I would pick The Lord of the Rings, an epic fantasy trilogy set in an imaginary world of great depth and beauty.
  • The Earthsea books, by Ursula Le Guin. When I was growing up, I read and reread the first three Earthsea books (A Wizard of Earthsea + The Tombs of Atuan + The Farthest Shore). The books are linked by the character of Ged, and by the setting: an archipelago where wizards learn the power of words, and dragons can still be found in remote reaches. Years after writing the first three books, Ursula Le Guin returned to Earthsea to write a fourth book, Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea, which deals with matters previously in the background of the stories, such as the limited options open to women, and the losing of power. To me, Tehanu is as evocative and imaginative and wonderful as the earlier books. After writing Tehanu, Ursula K. Le Guin returned to Earthsea again with the superb collection of stories, Tales from Earthsea, and another superb novel, The Other Wind.
  • The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin. The book is both the story of an individual, Shevek, and the story of two societies: Anarres — the anarchist, poor, utopian society he grew up in, and Urras — the rich, complex, power-dealing, money-using society he travels to. I have loved the character of Shevek since I met him when I was a child.
  • The Thief (and its sequels), by Megan Whalen Turner. The Thief appears to be marketed as a young adult book, but I think it would appeal to anyone from nine to ninety. It is a beautifully-told fantasy tale: quiet, understated, intelligent, with excellent moments of humor, the fantasy elements rarely shown yet critical to the story, the characters wonderfully drawn. I first read it in 2018. Within less than a year, I had re-read it to myself, then read it aloud to both my children. (It was the only book I’d read to my then-teenage son in quite a while.)
  • The Liaden Universe books, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. These books cover a wide range of moods, characters, and time periods within one science-fiction universe. Characters appear, disappear, then resurface in major or minor roles in later volumes. I particularly like Necessity’s Child, which has a sweetness to the characters, and particularly to the characters’ care for one another, that moved me very much. I also particularly like Conflict of Honors, one of the rare books that lifts me straight into happiness, perhaps because of how the characters help each other out; it has a pervasive lightness to it despite moments of dramatic peril.
  • Among Others, by Jo Walton, set in 1979-1980 and narrated by a 15-year-old girl who reads vast quantities of science fiction and fantasy, as well as other books. In 1979-1980 I was a 14-year-old girl who read vast quantities of science fiction and fantasy, as well as other books. I cannot tell how effective the book would be for someone who doesn’t share that background, but for me it was an entirely wonderful book to read. I loved it. I loved the mostly-not-even-explained references to science fiction and fantasy stories; I loved the warmth toward libraries, books, librarians, fellow readers, science fiction fans, the community of readers.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay’s fantasies. The settings for Guy Gavriel Kay’s fantasies meticulously draw on historical roots and weave them into something new. There is an artifice to Kay’s writing style that might be jarring if it were executed less well, but which Kay has mastered and which I love in his hands. Four of my favorite books of his are A Brightness Long Ago, A Song for Arbonne, The Lions of Al-Rassan, and Under Heaven.
  • Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner. There is little or no magic in this novel, and yet the setting and the atmosphere are those of a fantasy milieu, where a swordsman’s skill is a matter of life and death, where elegance and mannered replies define a society, and where the narrative prose is smooth perfection. A delight. N.B. I also love The Privilege of the Sword, by Ellen Kushner, which is set in the same milieu.
  • Watership Down, by Richard Adams. This is one of my all-time favorite children’s books. In describing the heroic adventures of a band of rabbits, Richard Adams endows the animals with their own language, personalities, and a rich rabbit mythology.
  • Aimed at younger children than Watership Down, my favorite character in a children’s book — perhaps in any book — is Mary Plain, an unusual bear-cub from the bear pits at Berne. Gwynedd Rae wrote at least ten books about Mary Plain and her friend the Owl Man, beginning with Mostly Mary. The Mary Plain books are refreshingly free from didactic messages teaching children how to behave — Mary Plain is greedy and rather conceited, enthusiastic and trouble-prone, but the affection between Mary Plain and the Owl Man, and between Gwynedd Rae and her characters, shines through.
  • The Los Nefilim books, by T. Frohock. Set in Europe in the years leading up to and during World War II, these are darkly fantastic books where the descendants of angels and daimons are entangled in battle. What draws me most to these books are the characters and the ties between them. Diago, Miquel, and Rafael may be my favorite fictional family; I could happily read about them doing the laundry together.
  • Jack McDevitt’s science fiction. I find it difficult to choose my favorites among Jack McDevitt’s books, but the ideas in Eternity Road and in The Engines of God have stayed with me. Jack McDevitt is a master at creating thoughtful, well-written, entertaining science fiction stories.

Everything else

  • The Lord of the Rings is probably my favorite book, but Jane Austen might be my favorite author. My personal favorites out of her half-a-dozen novels are Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Northanger Abbey, but they are all excellent, beautifully written, witty tales portraying the world Jane Austen grew up in, that of a middle-class English woman around 1800.
  • The Jump-Off Creek, by Molly Gloss. Sparsely but beautifully written, The Jump-Off Creek shows a small group of characters settling the Western frontier. At the center of the cast of characters is Lydia Sanderson, a widow working to set up a homestead on her own. Though never falsely sentimental, the author’s compassion for the characters is clear.
  • The Aubrey/Maturin series of historical naval adventures by Patrick O’Brian, starting with Master and Commander. By times funny, moving, riveting, harrowing, beautiful, these books have many strengths, including the developing friendship between Aubrey and Maturin, and the evocation of life at sea.
  • Alexander McCall Smith’s oeuvre. These books are another staple of my summertime/vacation reading. The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series is light reading, but in the best possible way. They are uplifting, moving, emotional books set in Botswana and centered in the thoroughly likable main character of Madame Ramotswe. I also love McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series.
  • Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson. A beautifully written, beautifully translated, bittersweet Norwegian novel. The story switches back and forth between the narrator’s current life and his youth, particularly the summer that he spent with his father in a remote Norwegian forest. The author’s love for both the characters and the landscape is clear and moving. In addition to Out Stealing Horses, I also very much like several other Petterson novels: In the Wake, It’s Fine By Me, and I Refuse.
  • The Harry Bosch detective series, by Michael Connelly. These books are often very dark, but they are — at least for me — page-turners. I am of very fond of Harry Bosch, and I am rationing my way through the books.

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