A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. Mantel is best known for her Booker Prize-winning Cromwell series, but this may be her best work. A thrilling tale of the French Revolution, fictionalized but historically accurate. It brings the major revolutionaries – Danton, Desmoulins, Robespierre – to life so vividly that you will swear you knew them. Ellen and I generally have very different tastes in literature, but we both agree that this is one of the best books we’ve read.
River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay. No one does historical fantasy as well as Kay, and this is one of his best. A thinly disguised story about the Jin-Song Wars during China’s Song Dynasty with a fantasy overlay, it moves slowly, but provides a rich tapestry of characterization and culture. Mesmorizing.
Seveneves by Neil Stephenson. There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of end of the world novels written. Stephenson’s latest epic tome (nearly 1,000 pages long) sets a new standard. This may not be Stephenson’s best book, but that’s like saying a painting isn’t Van Gogh’s best masterpiece. This book is fascinating, packed with knowledge, and will keep you reading even through the mathematics of changing orbital trajectories. You don’t have to be a sci-fi fan to love it.
HMS Surprise by Patrick O’Brian. Three books into the 20+ book series, it is hard to write enough praise for this rollicking written world of naval history, seamanship, political and geopolitical history, botany and medicine and so much more, carried by a colorful but wholly believable clutch of characters. O’Brian’s erudition on so many topics takes the readers breath away, as details spin out from aboard the latest sailing vessel and its community of men, some able, some less so. But about it all stands the remarkable relationship of Captain Jack Aubrey and his ship’s surgeon, Stephen Matchurin. Their repartee is priceless.
Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon. If you enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, this too will please. It is a witty depiction of a family falling apart as the patriarch slowly goes mad. Haddon is terrific at capturing personality traits that result in circumstances and human interactions being far worse than they need be.
The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett. Once again Patchett masterfully weaves a tale of chance – what happens to people whose lives cross incidentally, but who are then changed forever by that. Like all her novels, this one moseys along dreamily and captivatingly. As in Bel Canto, the intertwined lives come from wildly disparate origins, making the interactions sometimes humorous and sometimes tense, but always believable.
Anathem by Neal Stephenson. Ever wonder what interaction with other humanoid species might be like? Or, the structure of human society on earth in the distant future? How about societies built wholly on mathematical principles? And, would you like well researched scientific, philosophical, and technological musings served up with a wicked sense of humor? Then Neal is for you. All of Stephenson’s books are gems and so is Anathem. Be prepared to be both enriched and highly amused.