When I was a kid, one of the best things to find in my stocking on Christmas morning was a book. I was often gifted with books in fact, and love giving books to people even now. Since it’s that season, we at Shimmer have rounded up some of our favorites for you to consider.
Cory suggests: Carol Berg’s Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone. It’s a pair of fantasy books following a runaway and how he struggles with and eventually sheds his toxic past to become something better. The narrator is charming and witty, but there are plenty of times when your fingers tighten and you say, “No…” out loud, just to try and make the story go a way you know it can’t.
Keffy suggests: Voyage to Kazohinia by Sándor Szathmári. I recommend this highly to anyone who likes old-school dystopian fiction. This is a Hungarian dystopian novel from 1947 that can be roughly summed up as “Gulliver (yes, THAT Gulliver) discovers communism.” Although it was published in 1947 and there was an English translation in the 70s, that translation was never available outside of Hungary. This 2012 translation is the first one to be available worldwide. The writing and translation are both pretty good, at least on this end. High-rise by J.G. Ballard. Also another old one, from 1975 this time. A high-rise apartment building cuts itself off from the rest of the world, and everything goes all to shit. This book is absolutely horrifying on so many levels. I finished reading it and then had to clean my entire apartment and had to restrain myself from going to ask the neighbors if they wanted me to clean theirs. Oh, the comforting scent of bleach and order.
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. Coming of age story about a girl from a family of alligator wrestlers. Treads the line between fantasy and mainstream fiction beautifully. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Look, it’s about time, getting old, and rock and roll. And the pauses in the middles of songs. 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. Great book if you’re looking for some near-future SF that isn’t about the entire world being destroyed forever and now let’s cry a lot. Has an interesting look at a society with more than simply male and female as gender options. Also, HOLLOWED OUT ASTEROID CRUISE SHIPS. There’s a plot, sorta, but as it’s a KSR book, you should read it to wander around his solar system for 500+ pages. The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen. I liked this a lot more than I thought I would. It’s a time travel novel that doesn’t suck. I KNOW. And yet, it exists. Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine. Beautiful circus novel, plays with point of view beautifully. Recommended if you like the apocalypse, the circus, apocalyptic circuses, and beautiful things. The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers. This is one of the best science fiction books I’ve read in years. A 16 year old girl making her own decisions in a world where a disease has made pregnancy 100% fatal. Really good, probably not for you if you don’t want to cry a lot.
Sophie suggests: Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series is great (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen). It’s a crossover series that adults and teenagers can enjoy, has really kickass ladies in it, and it’s got lots of different kinds of gross monsters. There’s magic dogs and libraries and flying machines, too. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a favorite book of mine to recommend for writers because it teaches so much about when to give details and when to avoid them and different ways of touching on the same event. Also refuses to be sentimental, which is something, in my opinion, that you want to avoid when writing about tragedies.
Grá suggests: Haruki Murakami’s mindblowing Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World puts the detective novel on its ear by putting us in the head of The Narrator, a confused and passive genius. Or at least that’s the odd chapters. The even chapters describe the quiet life of a utopian village surrounded by high walls. I was halfway through HBWatEotW before I realized half the chapters are in third person and half are in first. The revelation of how these radically different stories connect is fascinating. Everyone in Douglas Coupland’s Microserfs is a little lost. A gang of software programmers at Microsoft realize they don’t actually have ” lives” they become obsessed with building a life as they figure out money, communication and love. This book was the very first time I read anything that made me say, ” this is about me.” Fat Kid Rules the World by KL Going is straight up the best first person voice I’ve ever read. Troy’s no nonsense narration lays out why he’s suicidal, what he thinks of drugs, sex, music and how he’s planning to save the most popular kid in school from self destructing.
Nicola suggests: I’d go for The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber, a huge slab of dark Victoriana peopled with criminals, dandies and lunatics, which follows Sugar, a young prostitute as she tries to make a better life for herself. Critics note that the book is “the novel Dickens would have wrote had he been allowed to speak freely,” and there’s a post-modern/post-feminist knowingness that gives the entire novel a voyeuristic edge; a sly wink through the keyhole that subverts the traditions that it continues. Beautifully written and atmospheric with wonderful characterization, so recommended, even to people who aren’t goth geeks like me who get overly excited about fog and cobbles and top-hats and corsets. Next then is Kissing the Witch by Emma Donoghue, thirteen re-imagined and interconnected fairy tales that give voice to the traditional passive female characters. It may not sound original now, but there’s a gorgeous sensuous dreamlike quality to the prose, and the way that the stories are woven together -so that the hints and fragments become a whole- is great. Oh, and I second A Visit from the Goon Squad too, loved it!
Pam suggests: Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. A detailed and unbiased view of the end of the civil war and the assassination plot. It also follows the hunt for Booth and the aftermath of all the conspirators.
Elise suggests: Karin Tidbeck’s collection Jagannath bundles up thirteen stories that each contain touches of our world and Something Else. Perhaps I have a soft spot for Tidbeck, as “Some Letters for Ove Lindström” appeared in Shimmer #14, but even if that hadn’t been the case, this book would have won me over. Season of Wonder (Prime Books) has eighteen holiday stories between its covers, with glimpses into traditions and the destruction thereof. And well, if the gorgeous cover with the rideable polar bear on it doesn’t get you in the holiday spirit, what will? Who hasn’t wanted to ride a polar bear across the arctic wastes while fleeing ice krakens? (At least that’s what goes on in my head when I see that cover!) A seasonal classic: The Hobbit, preferably without a movie tie-in cover, eh? Read this one aloud to your favorite kidlet…or yourself!
Sean suggests: Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King. I think of the Dark Tower books in the same way I’ve heard other writers talk about the Lord of the Ring books. For me, when I was in my late teens, these book completely blew me away, set fire to my imagination, and made me want to write the most epic, intense, GIGANTIC stories. Wind Through the Keyhole is a strange book. The original series wrapped up with book 7 a few years ago, but King felt the need to go back to the world (which, as a die-hard fan, I love him for). However, the characters from the previous seven books are only on the page for a few chapters. This is really a story within a story (within a story). It is essentially a fairy tale from the world created and laid out in the previous seven books. These kind of self-indulgent writerly shenanigans may not be for everyone, but for someone like myself who loves the world(s) King created, and loves the magic of a fairy tale created and told by the inhabitants of that interesting world–it was an amazing experience.
The Hollow City by Dan Wells. The Hollow City’s main character is a schizophrenic named Michael who starts the story in a hospital bed, with the last few weeks of his life list to amnesia. I know! Should have been called The Cliché City, amirite?!? But! Dan Wells is one hell of an author, and a damn smart one at that. I literally read this story in a day, because it was so interesting and exciting, I just could not stop. Dan Wells took great care to present a schizophrenic character that was real, and not something inaccurate and shallow. As such, we care deeply for the main character and his adventures, and we are never quite sure if what he is experiencing is real or in his own mind. A fantastic, thrilling read.
Beth suggests: Caitlin Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl, totally batshit insane and wonderful. The Red Tree, claustrophobic and slowly creeping sense of horror. Justine Larbaleister’s Liar. A girl is a werewolf — or is she? Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House. The grandmother of haunted house stories. A real classic. Jonathan Carroll, From the Teeth of Angels, an elegant meditation about death. Death is a character but it actually works (unlike stories featuring death in our slush pile). I enjoyed Mira Grant’s zombie series, even though each book was more ridiculous than the last. Chuck Wendig’s Blackbird and Mockingbird are wonderful, if you like deeply deeply flawed protagonists. The obvious big ones: George R. R. Martin’s Fire and Ice series, and Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles.
Marcia suggests: American Gods by Neil Gaiman. It combines Americana elements with a road trip and a lot of mythology. It has some very beautifully written passages, and the different incarnations of mythological entities are interesting, as is the depiction of the worlds “new gods.” Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. Beautiful, lush descriptions of Prague and the Underworld. Nice re-imagining of some mythological entities and the characters have interesting quirks. It’s Romeo and Juliet with monsters. And finally all of the books in The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. The books are fun, fast, and witty. They’re highly entertaining and filled with plenty of monsters, magic, and mayhem. I’ve read all of them at least twice.
Kristi suggests: I’ve mentioned several times in my MFA program (the little “Hey, who are you?” introduction that you always have to fumble through) that my favorite book is The Silmarillion, and everyone has thought I was insane. Yes, it reads like The Bible. Yes, it’s very difficult to read quickly, and you have to work slowly and process it to understand it. But the language is so hauntingly beautiful; the descriptions make you believe in things that you never thought you could. Tolkien is a master of suspension of disbelief, and I believe The Silmarillion is his shining example of why he’s so beloved. The incredible depth of history that he has created is incredible, and it makes you wonder in the back of your mind if just maybe some of it could have happened, far in the reaches of time–because surely he couldn’t have come up with such a detailed world without a little inspiration from Somewhere Else.
Selene suggests: First off, Kit Whitfield’s Benighted. A werewolf story that never, ever uses the word “werewolf,” and focuses on the lone non-shifter in a world where everyone changes. A tale that I find pulls at the heartstrings in just the right way. My other selection would be the book that turned me from a Science Fiction only snob to a full Speculative Fiction Reader. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Firebrand. It’s a retelling of the fall of Troy, but from Cassandra’s perspective.