My Reading List
The following are some of my favorite books that I’ve read over the past several years. Almost all of these are works of fiction, because most of what I read, for pleasure at least, is fiction. I tend to enjoy books with big themes that question conventional wisdom, received doctrine, and reality as we see it.
I’m pretty eclectic in my tastes. I enjoy mysteries, fantasy, suspense, and by and large novels that push the limits of our understanding of current paradigms. A lot of my favorite writers, including Tolkien, Umberto Ecco, Mario Puzo, Yukio Mishima, and a whole host of others aren’t included on this list, mostly because I haven't read them in a while.
These aren’t necessarily the top 10+ books I’ve ever read, nor are they in any particular order. I enjoyed all of these books, and will likely read some of them a second or even third time.
I've included a "buy now" button that takes you to the Amazon site for the book. I did this because I saw it on another author's website and I thought it made it very convenient. I don't get any royalties for these book purchases (wouldn't that be nice!). I hope you enjoy these as much as I have.
The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber
I think I've read everything Michael Gruber has written. He is one of my all time favorite writers. I could have listed about 8 books here but I focused on what is probably my favorite. I say probably because I absolutely loved Night of the Jaguar, The Book of Air and Shadows and The Good Son. But there is something about The Forgery of Venus that I found completely captivating. Michael tends to be an author that pushes the limits of accepted reality. In that way he reminds me of another one of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami. It's also similar to authors like Carlos Casteneda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He does it in such an intelligent way that you really believe things that are currently impossible to be completely plausible. The Forgery of Venus presents a concept similar in nature to Limitless. I won't give away the entire plot. You can go to Amazon and read about it. I will say that it will put you into a hypnotic environment, deep in details about the paintings of Valezquez.
City of Thieves by David Benioff
Who would have thought that you could take a story about two strangers on a search for a dozen eggs, set in the utter misery and desperation of the siege of Leningrad and make it a funny, relatable, and utterly engaging story?
To me, City of Thieves has everything that the classic Russian novels contain. Even though War and Peace is famously long (almost 1,300 pages!), I found it to be an incredibly fast, entertaining read. The great Russian authors; Dostoevsky, Chekov, Tolstoy, and Solzhenitsyn, were all able to imbue their novels with a dark humor, a casual everydayness, set amongst a backdrop of some of the most horrific human experiences imaginable. I knew nothing of Benioff when I started reading the novel, and I admittedly know very little about him now. I assumed, as I read the novel, that he had to be Russian or at least of Russian descent. I don’t think either of those is the case, which makes his writing even that much more impressive.
If you’ve never read Russian literature, then I recommend you start with City of Thieves because it will give you a flavor of the style, and it will put you into a world that is hard to imagine, but one which brings out the human condition in all of its greatness; tragic and beautiful. If you are already a fan of Russian literature, then you will love this book!
The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini
This was the best book of its type that I've read since The Lord of the Rings. That is incredibly high praise but it is well deserved. It captured me from the very first book. The story line, the characters, the epic struggle are fantastic. It's an intelligently written book that is accessible to younger readers as well as more mature, aka older readers (like myself). The blending of different species, i.e. elves, humans, dwarves, dragons, werecats, etc. was phenomenal. The battle scenes were great and not overly drawn out, which can sometimes happen. It's even more impressive when you consider that Christopher Paolini published the first book in the cycle when he was still a teenager. It will stand up as one of the great, epic adventure/fantasy novels for decades to come. For about thirty years, I used to read The Lord of the Rings ever seven years or so. I'm going to put The Inheritance Cycle into a similar track. I can't recommend it enough.
Murder in Highgate by Irina Shapiro
This is the 9th book in a truly wonderful series of historical fiction. Set in mid-century Victorian England, Lord Jason Redmond, an American surgeon who has inherited a title and estate in England, joins forces with Inspector Daniel Haze of Scotland Yard. These are murder-mysteries in the great tradition of Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle. However, neither Haze nor Redmond possess the near supernatural insights of Poirot or Holmes, making them much more relatable. The author expertly develops the main characters, not just as a duo solving murders, but as real people with problems and tragedies in their lives, both present and past. In addition to creative plot lines that will keep you guessing, the author highlights the social injustices rampant during that era. If you enjoy historical fiction and/or murder-mysteries, you will thoroughly enjoy this series. I recommend starting with the first book in the series; Murder in the Crypt.
The Return by Michael Gruber
I mentioned it in an earlier review but it's worth saying again, Michael Gruber is one of my all-time favorite authors! His writing is so intelligent, so clean, his plots are engaging and push the normal bound of reality, without being unrealistic. The Return was one of the best book I've ever read. It follows the journey of the protagonist deep into Mexico and confronts him not only with his past but with current reality of the narcoviolente gangs. It's steeped in Mexican culture and explores the intricacies, inherent fatalism and tragedy, as well as the childlike innocence and joy of the Mexican psyche. I lived in Guadalajara for 2 1/2 years many years ago and I found that his accounts were accurate and insightful, and could only have come from someone who spent significant time in the heart of Mexico - or did one hell of a lot of in-depth research. As with all great books, I found myself trying to find time to keep reading more, became absorbed into the story and the characters, and then felt sad when it was over. This is a book that I will read again in a couple of years.
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Murakami is one of my all time favorite authors. He has a very easy, clean writing style. Almost all of his books are in the first person perspective which makes you feel closer to his protagonists. This one is rare for him in that it’s written in the third person. If you’ve never read anything by Murakami then you should know that he deals with some very strange premises, alternate worlds, talking animals, etc. But for some reason, he’s such a good story teller and writer that it doesn’t seem odd. Perhaps that's because all of his novels revolve around central premises such as love, our place in the world, etc., which are universal. This novel has been compared to Joyce’s Ulysses, which is high praise indeed. Read this novel and if you like it, then read everything that Murakami has written. You won’t be disappointed.
Stoker's Manuscript by Royce Prouty
As you can probably guess at this point, I loved Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Not only was the story chilling, historical and groundbreaking, but the way the novel was written, as a series of letters and diary entries was incredibly innovative at the time – and remains so today. So I’m always on the lookout for intelligent takes on the Dracula legend. Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian was one such novel. Stoker’s Manuscript is another one of those books that followed along the path of the original story. It had that same darkness, and chilly eeriness that you would expect in a well done story about Dracula.
It focuses on rare-manuscript expert Joseph Barkeley, who is hired to authenticate and purchase the original draft and notes for Bram Stoker's Dracula. It turns out the reclusive buyer is a member of the oldest family in Transylvania. Traveling back to Romania, Berkeley realizes that he has become a prisoner to a descendant of Vlad Dracul. This was a great read that builds on the actual historical events surrounding the publication of Bram Stoker's original novel. It’s even more impressive when you consider that this was Royce Prouty debut novel.
Beneath a scarlet sky by Mark Sullivan
This was a phenomenal book. It reminded me in many ways of City of Thieves, perhaps because they both dealt with the utter horror and devastation of WWII. At the same time, the thing that made both novels hard to put down was the redemptive power of determination and a willingness to continue moving forward despite outrageous odds. Based on a true story set in Nazi occupied Milan, it follows Pino Lella as he learns to climb the alps and lead groups of escaping Jews to safety in neighboring Switzerland. That's the start of the story, which will take you on an incredible, harrowing and in many cases heartbreaking journey, but one that is immensely worth it.
Mark Sullivan does a phenomenal job of telling Pino's story and making us feel like we are there. It was the best book I've read so far in 2019.
I was Anastasia by Ariel Lawhon
This was a phenomenal book. It is told in an extremely nonlinear manner and follows the path of a woman who claims to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov, the only surviving member of Tzar Nicholas II's family. It is a riveting novel that artfully describes what it was like to go from being possibly the wealthiest and most powerful family in the world and then turned into prisoners in their own land. Until the end of the novel you don't know if this woman really is Anastasia who somehow miraculously escaped her family's death via firing squad and then spent the next 50 years trying to prove her identity, or an imposter trying to steal a destiny that is not hers. I won't give it away. Personally, I wasn't quite sure right up until the end... and isn't that the point, anyway?
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami is probably my favorite author (if it’s not him then it’s JRR Tolkien). This is one of, if not his most recent novel available in English. It is classic Murakami in that it creates a sublime interface between the utterly mundane and the incredibly fantastic. As with most Murakami novels it starts out somewhat slowly, centering around the life of a successful portrait painter who has become disillusioned with painting portraits, and instead wants to try his luck at the type of painting that he really enjoys (although we’re not completely sure what that is, but it’s a bit more abstract than portraits). He exiles himself in the mountain house of a friend’s father, who himself happens to be a wildly respected painter. That’s when it all starts blending into the fantastic. Yet, in classic Murakami fashion, even though you realize what is happening is unreal, and possibly even absurd, it still draws you in, and seems almost plausible. Personally, I couldn’t put the book down. Murakami is not for everyone, but if you enjoyed any of his other books then I think you’ll love this one.