What if summer reading wasn’t trashy but fun, but wonderful reads that were wonderful all the way through?
I’m sharing some of my favorite page turners from the last year (or two): fiction and non. Every single one of these is engrossing and fascinating and edifying all at once.
The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss
I found solid evidence that, of all people, Napoleon did it: he buried the memory of this great man – Gen. Alexandre Dumas, the son of a black slave who led more than 50,000 men at the height of the French Revolution and then stood up to the megalomaniacal Corsican in the deserts of Egypt. (The “famous” Alexandre Dumas is the general’s son – the author of The Three Musketeers.) Letters and eyewitness accounts show that Napoleon came to hate Dumas not only for his stubborn defense of principle but for his swagger and stature – over six feet tall and handsome as a matinee idol – and for the fact that he was a black man idolized by the white French army. (I found that Napoleon’s destruction of Dumas coincided with his destruction of one of the greatest accomplishments of the French Revolution – racial equality – a legacy he also did his best to bury.) – Tom Reiss
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore If you didn’t read it when it came out, now is a particularly good time to. And yes, it is a page turner.
“Ms. Lepore’s lively, surprising and occasionally salacious history is far more than the story of a comic strip. The author, a professor of history at Harvard, places Wonder Woman squarely in the story of women’s rights in America—a cycle of rights won, lost and endlessly fought for again. Like many illuminating histories, this one shows how issues we debate today were under contention just as vigorously decades ago, including birth control, sex education, the ways in which women can combine work and family, and the effects of ‘violent entertainment’ on children. ‘The tragedy of feminism in the twentieth century is the way its history seemed to be forever disappearing,’ Ms. Lepore writes. Her superb narrative brings that history vividly into the present, weaving individual lives into the sweeping changes of the century.” —Carol Tavris, The Wall Street Journal
James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips
James Tiptree, Jr., burst onto the science fiction scene in the late 1960s with a series of hard-edged, provocative stories. He redefined the genre with such classics as Houston, Houston, Do You Read? and The Women Men Don’t See. For nearly ten years he wrote and carried on intimate correspondences with other writers–Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, and Ursula K. Le Guin, though none of them knew his true identity. Then the cover was blown on his alter ego: “he” was actually a sixty-one-year-old woman named Alice Bradley Sheldon. A feminist, she took a male name as a joke–and found the voice to write her stories.
All of these I can say, OMG I LOVED THESE SO MUCH! Perfect all the way to the satisfying end.
The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
“Many books are good, some are great, but few are truly important. Add to this last category The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin’s debut novel…In this reviewer’s opinion, this is the must-read fantasy of the year.”―Booklist
Planetfall by Emma Newman
“I have been waiting for this book for a very long time. Planetfall is gripping, thoughtful science fiction in the vein of Tiptree or Crispin. Unique, timely, and enthralling…Emma Newman has crafted a story that turns inward on itself in a beautiful spiral; the written equivalent of the golden mean. Absolutely worth your time. Science fiction is meant to show us things about ourselves that we need to know. Planetfall is some of the finest sociological science fiction I have read since Tiptree… Absolutely beautiful. What a glorious, heartbreaking maze of a book.”—Seanan McGuire, author of A Red Rose Chain
And I Darken by Kiersten White
This vividly rendered novel reads like HBO’s Game of Thrones . . . if it were set in the Ottoman Empire. Ambitious in scope and intimate in execution, the story’s atmospheric setting is rife with political intrigue, with a deftly plotted narrative driven by fiercely passionate characters and a fearsome heroine.
The Memoirs of Lady Trent Book Series by Marie Brennen
Five delicious books, witty and powerful.
Marie Brennan begins a thrilling new fantasy series in A Natural History of Dragons, combining adventure with the inquisitive spirit of the Victorian Age.
You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart―no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments―even at the risk of one’s life―is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .