Reading List - Summer 2020
While there's no shortage of downright amazing books out there, finding them can be a challenge. I used to equate discovering an author I loved to stumbling upon a buoy lost at sea amid a violent storm. While things aren't quite that dire, flipping open that next book that checks all the boxes and proves impossible to put down can take some doing.
I'm always down for the cause when it comes to putting fellow readers and writers alike on to great books. I'll give a rundown of a few books I've read recently, show how they might influence my own writing, and throw in a couple new releases that I'm particularly excited about. My tastes are varied, and there's likely something for just about everyone on this list unless you're looking for hardcore romance or middle grade fiction.
Author: James Rollins
I put this book down about a week ago and came away highly satisfied. James Rollins' Sigma Force series does a great job combining the chase thriller blueprint with history, science, and technology. The Seventh Plague is no exception. Set largely in Egypt and Sudan along the Nile River, the boys from Sigma Force (a secret, hi-tech fighting unit within DARPA) search for the cure to a deadly ancient microbe that could have potentially served as the very real catalyst for the biblical exodus story.
On top of that, an idealist billionaire is on the cusp of using the same deadly microbe to bring Nikolai Tesla's most powerful creation to life on a massive scale.
The story is fast-paced like any thriller worth its salt and full of unpredictable twists. As someone who writes thrillers and finds authors like Dan Brown highly entertaining, James Rollins is right up my alley. And the fact that this iteration incorporates ancient Egypt is just icing on the cake. Give it a read if you like action-packed adventures with an intellectual side.
Author: Thomas Harris
More along the tonal lines of a mystery than a thriller where every other page comes with an unexpected turn, Cari Mora nonetheless is an entertaining and exciting read from the author of Silence of the Lambs.
A sadistic villain, a coastal Miami mansion with $25 million in Pablo Escobar gold buried underneath the foundation, and the equally observant and resilient Cari are enough to keep the pages flying by. The monsters lurking below the house are nothing compared to the ones up above. Cari is caught in the middle of two deadly factions racing toward a fortune left behind by one of the world's most notorious criminals.
Cari Mora is a great read with plenty of south Florida flavor. After starting out as a heist story, it gradually adapts into more of a psychological thriller where Cari becomes increasingly at risk of being ensnared by the kind of villain that will make your skin crawl. A great summer thriller that's easy to knock out next to a pool or in a hammock.
Istanbul: City of Majesty at the Crossroads of the World
Author: Thomas F. Madden
Thomas F. Madden is hands down the best historical nonfiction author I've ever read. Without the advantage of a narrative format, he turns the nearly three thousand year history of perhaps the world's most interesting city into something that rivals many novels I've read in ease of reading and difficulty to put down.
Istanbul itself is fascinating, as is the impact it's had on so many facets of the ancient and modern worlds, but the way Madden brings the subject matter to life is truly remarkable. He specializes in the Crusades but also has multiple books about Venetian history as well.
If history is your thing, Thomas Madden is your guy and Istanbul is a fantastic starting point.
Author: Mikhail Bulgakov
Though Bulgakov finished writing The Master and Margarita in 1940 (the year of his death) it wasn't published until 1967.
The hype surrounding Russian classics is something of a mixed bag for me. While I appreciate their literary importance, I found Dead Souls to be interesting while hard to enjoy and have never properly willed myself to tackle Tolstoy or Dostoevsky.
But Mikhail Bulgakov's crowning achievement is wildly different. For one, it arrives a good fifty years after many of its more famous predecessors. Russia had changed mightily following the Bolshevik Revolution. The days of realism were gone.
That being said, The Master and Margarita is nothing short of a masterpiece. It's the kind of rare novel that transforms from sentences and chapters into a sort of living persona that takes hold of you and feels perhaps ever realer than a movie or memory. As if you were really there existing alongside the characters. It instantly made Bulgakov one of my favorite authors.
Satan and his cohorts arrive in 1930's Moscow and immediately begin both beguiling and terrorizing the city with a variety of schemes and hi-jinx. A satire that intersperses plot with the story of Pontius Pilate (pulled by Bulgakov from the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus), it breathes life into various sects of Moscow society and constantly keeps the reader guessing while all manner of oddities take place. I highly recommend this book.
Author: Erin Morgenstern
As if I wasn't writing enough gushing accolades. I'm a little late to this one, but The Night Circus might be the best book of the bunch. Morgenstern's fantasy novel is the kind of literature you can't help hoping gets adapted into a movie but know that no director will ever be able to truly do it justice.
A traveling circus secretly held together by magic that's really just a sophisticated battleground for two dueling magicians who don't know the identity of their opponent. Truth be told, I'd had my eye on this novel for ages but was worried it would be tailored to an audience too young or feminine for my taste. And I was totally wrong.
The Night Circus provides such a vivid, magical setting and tells the story in such a complex, layered way that it was like being transported back to childhood and reading Harry Potter again for the first time. Almost. But this book definitely holds its own against an YA staple and certainly retains tons of appeal for adults who love striking imagery, some romance, and still have that child somewhere inside.
Once again, I highly recommend and am already hyping myself up for the movie adaptation I know will ultimately disappoint.
Author: Robert Harris Released: 2017
The Pope dies under mysterious circumstances. As over a hundred cardinals convene and the next conclave begins, the Dean of the College of Cardinals races to discover if one of the men of God in his midst harbors a motive that could have played a role in the predecessors' untimely demise.
I'm about one third of the way into this thriller. It offers rich descriptions and tons of details from a cardinal's point of view that show the weighty thoughts of a man of God and the inner workings of the Roman Catholic church. That alone is interesting enough to keep reading.
Author: John Grisham
A writer of thrillers is killed in the midst of a devastating hurricane off the Florida coast. The portentous characters of his novels could be coming to life. And the key to it all is the manuscript for the victim's latest novel, hidden somewhere in his computer.
I'm a sucker for Caribbean-esque settings and John Grisham is one of the best mystery writers to ever do it. I haven't read one of his novels in years but I'm excited for this one. The perfect book for summer; the most inhospitable acts juxtaposed with the most hospitable of settings just seem to read better when you're sitting on the beach or next to a pool with drink in hand.
Finding books that speak to us is hard work. It's something of a treasure hunt, and can be equally exhausting. If just one person finds a book or author they thoroughly enjoy from this list I will consider it a resounding success.
Until then, keep reading and subscribe or hit me in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. What books are you reading and looking forward to this summer?
Plenty more to come in the following weeks, so stay excited!