Hello dear reader(s) and welcome back! If you haven’t read my previous blog post Reading in the Time of Corona – you can click on the link and have a read. Basically I muse what kind of texts (books, audiobooks, comics, manga, magazines) one should look for and what to avoid like the plague. 😀 This is the continuation of that text in which I’m going to give a few lots and lots reading recommendations. Apparently. 😀
So how is this all going to look like? I have decided to divide this into 3 categories (The Usual Suspects, Non-fiction and Fiction) and order the recommended texts alphabetically by author. I will also link the corresponding Goodreads page of all the titles, or series. If I’ve reviewed the book(s) I’m recommending I’ll try to leave a link to the review where you can see more information. Since I have a lot of book recommendations I will try to keep the text short since I’ll link everything that needs linking. Or die trying, because let me tell you, it’s a lot of links people! Now that that’s out of the way let’s crack on.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
I’ve decided to create this category because I know someone, somewhere will eventually either ask or suggest The Usual Suspects. The books that are thematically appropriate to read and are just right for the situation. Such as the cult classic The Decameron by Boccaccio, various apocalyptic books like The Walking Dead, The Zombie Survival Guide, World War Z, or various dystopic books like Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or Battle Royale manga (I quite like that and would recommend for the shits and giggles) and similar titles. Listen, listen these are all fine and good books. Some of them are even in my favourites. But you know what? Not today people! Not today! Because of reasons I outlined in the previous post. So consider those books included in this category and move on. This is not the hill you want to die on my friend.
I apologise in advance because this section will mostly consist of history books. I don’t read popular non-fiction books, such as those written by Neil deGrasse Tyson or Stephen Hawking. They don’t really interest me, although I’m sure they’re a great read. I’m a horrible cook, so I can’t recommend any cookbooks, unless they’re history books about food. Actually, I do know some books that have interesting medieval receipts! If you want to chat about those I’ll be more than happy to direct you their way and see how your recreations of medieval meals turn out. 🙂 So with that being said let’s dig in to the recommendations.
Sir David Attenborough – Life on Air. Sir David and the documentaries narrated and produced are an important part of my childhood. So many years later I still remember the documentaries I watched as a child. Even if I can’t recall the pictures clearly I still hear his voice, and how he was always eloquent and passionate about the subject he was presenting. His magnificent, well written autobiography was a brilliant and joyful read! I’ve reviewed it here, so you can read a bit more of my ramblings and see a few photos of London too.
Lisa Eldridge – Face Paint. Not only is Lisa Eldridge a world famous makeup artist, who does makeup for a lot of celebrities like Kate Winslet, Dua Lipa, Keira Knightly and so on, she is also eloquent, passionate about makeup and cosmetics, and truly a kind person. In Face Paint Lisa Eldridge writes about the history of makeup, not only makeup as a craft, but also makeup as an expression of art and social construct. Although, some people think that makeup is a frivolous thing, they are wrong. Face Paint is a glorious love letter to makeup and cosmetics, to craft and the art form. My musings on the book can be found here.
Mona Eltahawy – The Seven Necessary Sins For Women And Girls. The Feminist Giant Mona Eltahawy wrote a powerful feminist manifesto that loudly and proudly gives patriarchy the middle finger! Not only does Mona tell the patriarchy to fuck off and keeps fucking off to the nearest cliff and fuck off until it dies a painful death (erm I think this is me, not Mona 😀 sorry) this book shows women and girls how to defy, disrupt and disobey the patriarchy. It encourages them to embrace the qualities, aka “sins” that the patriarchy thinks are undesirable in women. It’s a powerful and well written book that everyone should read. Don’t be a footsoldier of the patriarchy, be an ally and fight it!
Peter Frankopan – The Silk Roads and The New Silk Roads. Professor Frankopan has been called the rock star of history, and rightly so. His books The Silk Roads and The New Silk Roads made a significant impact not just on my way of thinking as a historian, but on others who read his books. Perfectly balancing the academic and approachable way of writing these books show you how the world has always been connected, and how the centre of power swings like a pendulum from East to West depending on the circumstances. The New Silk Roads is particularly spot on for in the current situation, so if you read one history book in quarantine read these 2. 😀 Oh and if the huge hardcover edition of The Silk Roads intimidates you, there’s an illustrated edition. The cover says it’s for kids, but I say it’s for children of all ages, so crack on! Reviews here and here.
Catherine Hanley – Matilda. Doctor Catherine Hanley is an outstanding and skilful writer. In my experience, most history books tend to be written in the strict academic manner that can appear intimidating and a bit dull to people who are not used to the terminology. But historians are getting better at writing texts for the academic reader and laypeople. Doctor Hanley is has no problem making her books approachable to everyone and her biography of Matilda “empress, skilled military leader and one of the greatest figures in the English Middle Ages” is an example of her great skill as a historian and a writer. I reviewed the book here, if you want to read more about it.
Greg Jenner – A Million Years in a Day. Greg Jenner is a public historian, a brilliant author, terrific comedian and a generally nice person. If you don’t believe me check out his Twitter. A Million Years in a Day is a well written book about everyday life, sprinkled with humour, fascinating facts, puns and cultural references that I’ve reviewed here. It’s a captivating read, one would never expect that you’d be reluctant to put down a book that talks about everyday objects. 🙂 You find something new about yourself every day. 🙂 Greg’s new Book Dead Famous – about the history of celebrities is out today, I haven’t read it, but knowing his writing and work on other projects it will be grand! If you can please check his books out. And if you’re kind of reluctant, he’s got a brilliant history podcast for people who don’t like history – it’s called You’re Dead to Me and it’s witty, smart, funny and a must listen.
Raffaella Sarti – Vita di casa. If you’d like to know more about the history of everyday life Europe from the 16th to the 19th century this is the book to start. From living conditions, marriage customs, family relations, clothes to food Sarti traces how our ancestors lived, how did it change and evolve with introduction of various new foodstuff from the Americas, or new customs and building evolutions. I stated the original Italian title, because that’s how I remembered the book’s name, but the book has been translated to English, Croatian, Dutch and Spanish.
Lila Zaouali – Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World. I did mention that I couldn’t recommend cookbooks, but I could introduce you to books about history of food. And here’s one dedicated to the medieval culinary arts of the Islamic world. Spices known and exotic, the history and tradition of ingredients, food preparations, cooking techniques, what kind of meals did people eat and most importantly how did they write receipts in so someone else could recreate that same meal. A must read for bon vivants and food lovers alike. 😀 My musings on the book can be found here.
Regular readers of the blog will know which genres I gravitate to so they won’t be surprised with my recommendations. However, if you’re new here (hello, welcome!) I mostly read fantasy, horror, science fiction and crime/mysteries. I’m not too keen or popular fiction, young adult books or romances, so you’re going to have to elsewhere for those recommendations. Although I did mention in my previous post that I wouldn’t include (post)apocalyptic books or horrors I did include a few, because I truly believe they’re magnificent stories that will draw you into their world and that you will enjoy them. But you’ll see it when you get there. 🙂
Ben Aaronovitch – Rivers of London series. Ben Aaronovich created a splendid and diverse urban fantasy series that includes both books and comics. Although it commonly gets compared to the Harry Dresden novels, Rivers of London is (in my opinion) a better series. And here are 3 main reasons why you should read it and see for yourself: it has an excellent and well developed idea, superbly crafted and splendidly written, varied and diverse cast of characters that have their own unique voices. There you go 🙂 and here’s the review.
Katherine Arden – Small Spaces series. Although Katherine Arden is most known for her Winternight Trilogy her middle grade spooky series Small Spaces captured my heart. The series’ protagonists are 3 smart and resourceful kids who know how to work together despite their differences (a trait many adults should learn and perfect) and they stick together when the going gets tough. Additionally, the villain of the series is also a fascinating character and I hope more will be reviled about him as the series progresses. Although this is a horror story for younger audiences it’s interesting to read outside of spooky season when folks traditionally crave horror. A spoilerish review can be found here.
Parker Bilal – Makana series. Crime and mystery novels are notoriously hard to recommend. Some prefer the traditional whodunit, others would like psychological thrillers, or complex cases. Personally, I don’t discriminate 😀 I read all of them. For me crime fiction is a unique way to get to know a city, or country. Yes, I treat crime fiction like tour guides. There are worse hobbies to have. 😀 The setting of most of the books in the Makana series is Cairo, however, we do get one that’s set in Istanbul. In addition to the intriguing main protagonist you get an amazing supporting cast of characters and a great plot. More info on the series at the link.
Mike Brooks – Keiko series. “If Firefly and The Expanse had a love-child, it would read something like Brook’s Keiko novels.” Truer words have not been written about this series. It’s a feel-good, fast paced witty adventure with wickedly smart, funny and just plain lovable bunch of characters that you just have to root for, because they’re the best. Go forth and read, but first here’s the review.
LeVar Burton – LeVar Burton Reads podcast. Does what it says on the tin. 🙂 But basically every week LeVar Burton reads a short story of his choice. The stories are various, but the common denominator is that they’re short and LeVar likes them. He has a wonderful voice and his reading and interpretation of the text is always interesting. If reading is not really something you want to do, try listening to some stories. It’s a wonderfully different experience.
Becky Chambers – The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. The ultimate feel-good science fiction read! There’s a space ship with a diverse crew and a lovable AI. They have a mission, quest, thing… There’s great character development and bonding along said mission, quest, thing and absolutely no drama just for drama sake. The book you’d want to be stuck in quarantine, public transport jam, queue at the bank… You get it, it’s awesome go forth and read it. 😀
S. A. Chakraborty – The Daevabad Trilogy. Epic, and I truly mean epic, fantasy/historical fiction series that will ensnare you in its magnificent writing, spellbinding characters, nerve-wracking plot and your inability to put the book down until you’ve finished it and triple checked that your favourite characters are safe and sound and that they will remain so. Right? Right Shannon? They’re all safe right?
James S. A. Corey – The Expanse series. Good science fiction text can be hard to find, brilliant science fiction text even more so. The Expanse is one of those brilliant book series that has a strong scientific background (meaning everything makes sense, there’s no finger of God thingamabob that works because the plot really, really needs it to work), distinctive characters that are well developed and an captivating plot that will occasionally, just occasionally mind you, leave you spluttering curse words because even in fiction political leaders are idiots. 😀 In addition to all that you get the protomolecule! 😀 If all that doesn’t make you want to read this magnificent science fiction series just know that the series was adapted for television (all 4 seasons are running on Amazon Prime now) and that Clinton Shoter composed the soundtrack with song names like: We Have To Kill It, What Did You Do, Not Planning To Die (hey, me neither!) and Not A Bad Way To Die. Optimistic AF. 😀 Oh just go forth and read the bloody series, you’ll thank me later Beltalowda.
Suyi Davies Okungbowa – David Mogo Godhunter. Nigerian Godpunk! You really have no idea what I’m talking about right? 😀 Fear not, dear reader(s), there is method to my madness and ramblings. 🙂 Suyi Davies envisioned and created an intriguing story set in Lagos with a cast of vivid characters. I reviewed the book here so you can have a look at my ramblings about the book and reasons why to read it.
P. Djèlí Clark – A Dead Djinn in Cairo, The Black God’s Drums, The Haunting of Tram Car 015. Basically everything he’s ever written! I keep comparing Djèlí Clark’s writing to cakes. Frankly my inability to describe how great his writing is and linking it to cakes is, at this point, both hilarious and cringe worthy. 😀 P. Djèlí Clark if you’ve ever read any of my reviews of your brilliant work I’m so, so sorry! I tried and failed. 😀 Reviews here and here and here.
C. B. Hanley – Edwin Weaver series. Here’s an interesting and fun fact for you: doctor Hanley writes gripping medieval murder mysteries! It’s like Midsomer Murders in the Middle Ages! What I adore in this series is how the reader is introduced to the time period and the characters. And as you progress with the reading you kind of forget about the murder part of the mystery and start thinking and caring more about the characters. Oh what will happen to X or Y? Or how will they manage to do this if they don’t have that? You become so engrossed in the everyday life of medieval people that when the time comes to solve the murder mystery you’re like: Oh yeah, someone was killed here, that’s why I started reading this. 😀 Besides being well written books, the Edwin Weaver series is a great way to learn a bunch of interesting historical fact that you never really thought about. Did you know twins were rare in the Middle Ages? I didn’t, haven’t really thought about it until I read it in Brother’s Blood. My review with more fun stuff about these books is here.
Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez – Locke & Key series. If I tried summing this series in 2-3 words horror and weird bollocks would be it. Doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation, but it’s definitely an intriguing one. 😀 In all honestly the combination of riveting and layered storytelling coupled with detailed and wondrous drawings makes this comic book series a true gem to look and to read. This series was also adapted for television, you can find it on Netflix. I haven’t watched it yet, but I’ve heard good things and the soundtrack sounds (ha!) promising. If you’d like to read my review and look at more photos of the comic book series you can find it here.
R. F. Kuang – The Poppy War series. Here’s another epic, epic and exploding and brilliant fantasy/historical fiction series! Inspired by China’s rich history and Sino-Japanese relations. R. F. Kuang chose well the themes she wanted to focus on and they were thoughtfully written. The interesting plot and great characterisation made the books difficult to put down! I had to finish it, and what da ya know it’s 5 A.M. and girl you better get some sleep!
L. D. Lewis – A Ruin of Shadows. A short fantasy/science fiction story in a sea of series and big books. 🙂 But you have to switch things up right? Reading A Ruin of Shadows was spur of the moment thing. The summary looked interesting so I started reading. I was amazed at how much story, world building, emotions and character development can fit into a short story! A Ruin of Shadows might be a novella, but it packs a punch! Read it, you won’t regret it. Trust me. 🙂
Kwame Mbalia – Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. Tristan Strong was the book that completed my Goodreads challenge of 2019. This middle grade fantasy inspired by African-American mythology and folk tales was one of the most beautiful and emotional book’s I’ve read. Moreover, Kwame Mbalia in this book wrote profound things about grief and depression and how a person lives and handles so much sadness. Tristan Strong is a well written book, with beautiful prose with its own rhythm and pace. As I already mentioned, there are sentences and even whole paragraphs that will stop you in your tracks, make you pause and reflect about life and your emotions, there are sentences that will make you cry your eyes out and others that will make you laugh so hard you’re going to feel life coming back to your limbs. And you wanna know the best part? There’s a sequel coming at the end of this year. That’s right Tristan Strong Destroys the World. Boy that escalated quickly! 😀
Tanja Radman – Lex Legis series. Here’s something for my Croatian readers. Tanja Radman is a young author and Lex Legis is her first book series that (so far) consists of Republika Kamena and Republika Smrtnika. If memory serves me right the first book Republika Kamena was translated to English and is available on Amazon. Lex Legis is a fantasy series with historical elements from the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovačka Republika) and the author has an intriguing way of mixing mythology, fantasy and historical elements. Do check her out, she’s a great writer and an incredibly kind person. You can find my ramblings about Tanja’s books here and here.
Rebecca Roanhorse – The Sixth World series. To be completely honest and transparent with you this recommendation will require some diverting “rule” bending. 😀 A post-apocalyptic, urban fantasy dystopia. Yup, those are the genre categories the two books in this series fall into. I know, I know I said what I said (or better I wrote what I wrote) 😀 but hear me out, this is one heck of an interesting series with a kick ass main character – Maggie Hoskie a Dinétah monster hunter. What made me like this kick ass lady was how she saw herself: “And now they are looking to me to be their hero. But I’m no hero. I’m more of a last resort, a scorched-earth policy. I’m the person you hire when the heroes have already come home in body bags.” Maggie Hoskie might not see herself as a hero, but she rises up when monsters need killing and she’s there when times are hard and people need help. Trail of Lightning and the sequel Storm of Locusts are captivating books that draw the readers into a fascinating world inspired by Native American mythology. Regardless of the genre and categorisation you should read them because it’s a darn good story!
J. R. R. Tolkien – The Hobbit. What to say about Tolkien’s The Hobbit that hasn’t already been said? It’s a comfort book and a cult classic. An unlikely hero joins a hardy band of adventurers who want to take what is theirs by right from a dangerous, fire breathing dragon. It’s a good tale with a (somewhat) happy ending that anyone, regardless of their age can read. Not to mention that it’s a great segue to The Lord of the Rings if you’re in a mood to read a fantasy version of a medieval monk’s chronicle. 😀
Tad Williams – The War of the Flowers. Tad Williams is my comfort author and I have enough of his books to make The Tad Williams comfort book pileTM. 😀 If you don’t believe me I’ll post a photo below. See, I told you – comfort book pile(s)TM. Tad is such a brilliant fantasy/SF writer that I could literally choose any of his books for this recommendation, but I decided to pick one that’s really special to me and that helped me get through a really difficult period of my life. The War of the Flowers is a stand-alone contemporary fantasy novel. Its main character Theo Vilmos could be described as a boy with potential that could have had it all, but somewhere along the way nothing came of him. And the way things are going for him in the first couple of chapters it doesn’t look like his life will get anywhere good anytime soon. However, a strange twist of fate brings him to Fairyland, so Theo (probably most unlovable protagonist) has to face a whole new set of problems and he won’t always be very good at it. What I like about Theo is that he’s really like most of us. We all have potentials and could have had it all’s that somewhere along the way came to nothing. We’re sometimes really not awesome at solving problems or interacting with people. We screw up, sometimes we screw up a lot, but like Theo we try to muddle through the shit show and do the right thing.
So there you have it! My recommendations for what to read when you’re stuck at home in self-isolation for X amount of days. If you’ve read this far kudos to you and thank you very much! If you’d like to chat with me about the books I’ve recommended or give me some of your own please feel free to leave a comment down below or find me on Twitter @NarratriceNessa and we can chat. Just remember, be polite, book recommendations are not the hill you want to die on! 😉 Until next time dear reader(s).