Favorite Authors & Books

This is by no means a comprehensive list.  But I think it’s always good to see what an author likes to read.

My tastes cover a range – I’m a reading omnivore.  But I will read many of an author’s works when I find one whose writing style and consistency appeals to me.

I’m going to list them in no particular order at all as far as preference, although I want to list current authors early on (including their websites):

Stephen King ( www.stephenking.com )  I’ve read King for many years.  If I had to choose a favorite, it would be difficult.  If pressed with hot irons about to be applied to my bare feet, I’d probably choose The Dead Zone, although so many others would follow so close behind as to be barely any lead at all.  The other top picks would be (in no order) The Stand, Night Shift, Different Seasons, Salem’s Lot, Christine, The Shining, and The Green Mile.  These fall mostly (other than the last one) in the first phase of his career.  I’ve still thoroughly enjoyed others like It, Dark Tower series, etc.  But I have a slight preference toward his early style.  His style has evolved over his long career and he is certainly one of the best storytellers around.  For the record, if I had to choose just one short story I would take The Last Rung of the Ladder which is simply one of the best short stories I’ve ever read – a poignant gem and just a beautiful and evocative piece of writing.  Among the novellas, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption which I read and loved long before any of the novellas from Different Seasons made it into film.  Still, King continues to this day to create some of the most skilled story storytelling around.  Even when he released the stories in Just After Sunset and admitted he had gotten out of the habit of writing short stories, you had wonderful lines like this from Willa where he describes a train station:  “The station was a narrow wooden throat.”  Great line, and spare use of a description that invokes mood.  King is also to be admired for the braveness he shows toward his own storytelling.  A very large number of main characters in King books die before the end of the book – sometimes the main character.  King doesn’t coddle his characters, and none have any certainty they will make it to the other side of the cover before it’s finally closed.  Very few authors have this willingness to be so true to the telling of a story that they won’t protect (or resurrect) their characters.  It’s a rare trait.  Which brings us to…

Donna Boyd / Donna Ball – also writing under many other names for different series.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donna_Ball  ( http://donnaball.blogspot.com )  I’ve read her urban fantasy books as that’s where much of my interest has fallen in more recent years.  Her Devoncroix Dynasty werewolf trilogy – The Passion, The Promise, Renegade – bring to mind some of Anne Rice’s best work in envisioning historical France and other European or American locales.  She has some very beautiful and vividly visual prose, and the storytelling follows the characters rather than leads them.  I’ve encountered books by other authors where it’s possible to almost see an author’s hand dip down now and then to move characters around.  That doesn’t happen with these books.  Instead, the characters will do what they will, go where they wish, and the story will unfold and resolve on terms the characters have brought about – for better or ill – or both.  Ms. Ball (Boyd is her pen name for her urban fantasy novels) doesn’t protect her characters or play favorites any more than King does.  They are flawed and yet relentlessly formidable – just as they should be.  Perhaps they won’t transcend their almost-too-human hubris, but they’ll make whatever will happen on their own terms.  These stories – and the entire storyline of the trilogy – have some very unexpected twists and yet very believable and sadly understandable – once one comes to see these characters for all their beautiful highs and lows.  Like King, Ms. Ball is a versatile writer who dips into different genres with confidence.  I hope people who have not yet read her will give her a try.  There’s a lot to choose from.

Patricia Briggs ( http://www.hurog.com/ ) Definitely one of the most joyful author discoveries I’ve found in years.  Briggs has a natural ease in her storytelling that makes you forget that you’re reading.  Even more, one of her many strengths is pacing and always keeping the story entertaining while it moves along at a good clip.  She peoples her “Mercy Thompson” novels with a wide variety of fully-fleshed characters, all of whom give her an even broader canvas to paint upon as she reveals more stories throughout the series.  And what I really like (and what she has in common with fellow action urban fantasy author Kelley Armstrong) is that she portrays realistic heroines and other characters – strong in some ways, flawed in others, and entirely believable.  There aren’t any over-powered characters in these stories, nor does Briggs shield her characters from harm.  More importantly, her characters evolve throughout books and the series itself, growing in experience and changing in their interactions with one another.  Briggs also excels at maintaining tension.  There is always a sense of danger in her stories, from unknown opponents as well as uncertain allies.  The “Mercy Thompson” series especially is centered around how the title character relates and interacts with members of the various supernatural races.  There is never a certainty she knows everything, which lends itself to further discoverability.  Her relationships with her friends and acquaintances yield as many questions as they do answers.  The “Mercy Thompson” and “Alpha and Omega” books are a very engaging series, and I highly recommend them to any readers who love action urban fantasy with fast-moving stories, realistic and well-drawn characters, a thoroughly thought-out world, ever-present sense of danger, and plots and crises that feel natural with real consequences to choices that have been made.

Kelley Armstrong ( http://www.kelleyarmstrong.com/ ) I bought Bitten in hardcover at its debut release – based mostly on a review and partly because it had a great cover as well.  I’ve read virtually all her other books (I’ve got a few in a stack that I’ve been working on).   Kelley Armstrong is an extremely consistent as well as prolific writer – one of those that readers look for because you can be certain you’ll enjoy the next installment, whatever it may be.  She writes with a confident skill, and balances a number of characters across her many books as they grow and interact with one another.

Anne Rice ( http://www.annerice.com ) Anne Rice has written some extremely beautiful and fully visualized stories – too many to list here.  I still fall back upon my two favorites – Interview With The Vampire and The Vampire Lestat.  Almost every Urban Fantasy or Paranormal story today – let’s say 99.5% of them – are written from the first-person perspective.  But in many cases there comes to feel a sameness to some stories, which too often depict a spunky heroine with a sassy attitude, but somehow miss delving into the depths of the character.  Partly this is also due to the typical lengths asked for in the genre these days – usually around 85,000 words.  It’s possible to develop a character in that span, but it requires more work and the skill to do so.  Rice spun out two stories told from first-person perspective that couldn’t be more different in style or tone – that of Louis and the follow-up by Lestat.  There aren’t so many authors who can write first-person and so distinctly create really powerful unique voices for the character telling the tale.  But Rice has done so many times.  Still, while I found many of her other works very enjoyable and intriguing, they didn’t strike me with near the same resonance as these two.  Whether or not someone likes urban fantasy, horror, or whatever one would classify many of her books, I think a common response would be “wow” at reading some of her prose.  A very skilled hand.

Louis L’Amour – I read pretty much all of his books over a several year period.  Great storyteller.

J.R.R. Tolkien – I’ve read pretty much all of his writings – including the many volumes his son Christopher has released including in recent years.  Tolkien was meticulous in detail but on a wide scale and an even bigger timeline.  While he might devote only a page (or sometimes less) to an epic battle, his world-building was breathtaking in its scope.

Richard Bach – My favorite would be Illusions although a few others come close.  Some nice and usually introspective prose whose simplicity often only means there’s something deeper to explore.

Linda Goodman – Love Signs and Sun Signs are simply two amazing books that illustrate how skilled Ms. Goodman really was in observing humans and the way we interact.  Ignore all the part about astrology, and you’re still left with some very insightful looks at the way people relate with one another – and perhaps how we can transcend our shortcomings once we recognize what we’re doing wrong.  And this comes in the form of some beautifully poignant writing that simply flows across the pages.

Clive Cussler – I’d have to pick Raise The Titanic, Night Probe, and Vixen 03 as tying for my favorites.  I did stop reading toward the end of the Dirk Pitt adventures.  For me at least, the later books just didn’t seem to capture the same magic the first several had done.

W.E.B. Griffin – The Brotherhood of War series – especially The Lieutenants, The Captains, The Majors, and The Colonels.  For historical war novels where there was actually very little war – but a whole stable full of wonderfully different and entertaining characters – Griffin is definitely one to read.

Mark Twain – I’ve always loved so many of his books.  I’d have to choose A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court as my top favorite.  It ended too soon.

Willard Price – He wrote the series of Adventure books featuring a man and his two teen sons who explored the world and encountered an amazing menagerie of wildlife – from the Amazon to Africa to the South Seas to the Arctic and many other places.  Very entertaining stories that I read growing up.

Various other books I can see when I glance across my various bookshelves around the room:

Ghost Story – by Peter Straub – one of the finest books I’ve ever read.  Straub admired Stephen King’s ability to populate a town, and decided to try his hand at it.  Boy, did he ever.  And crafted one of the greatest gothic ghost stories.

Little Big Man – by Thomas Berger – Few people can match Mark Twain in evoking a yarn where you don’t know which direction the next chapter will take, but you can be sure it will be quite fun.  This is one of them.

The Master and Margarita – by Mikhail Bulgakhov – Another Twain-like odyssey, but from a Russian point of view (and during early Soviet times no less).  While Russian storytelling can seem to have an impression of being serious if not ponderous, there have always been lighthearted humorous authors among the doorstopper giants.  Ilf & Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs would be another well-known one.

The Foxfire Books – A mix of history and how to do things the way they were done by our grandparents or earlier.

Bushcraft by Mors Kochanski – A very descriptive book on wilderness survival skills.

Walter The Lazy Mouse by Marjorie Flack – This was a childhood favorite of mine.  I liked the way Walter learned to get beyond his laziness and become the hardest-working mouse around, and a role-model.

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman – If anyone saw Will Smith’s I Am Legend, it’s quite possible that Weisman’s chapter on what would happen to New York City in the absence of humans was used as a reference to create the scenes of decay and new growth.  This is simply a marvelous book – compact and gets to the point while entertaining with its intriguing looks at the ways the world and its humans have become so inter-related, as well as the ways the world might not be affected by our absence after all.

The Last Parallel by Martin Russ – This book came about from Mr. Russ’s war journal as a Marine during the Korean War.  It’s the best war memoir I’ve read – period.  Even better than James Brady’s or Philip Caputo’s or many others’ accounts of what they had either seen or experienced during wars.  It’s at times funny, and other times brings the hardship and struggling to life.  But it’s always an engaging read.

The Magic Kingdom books by Terry Brooks – Great entertaining storytelling, that blends modern with fantasy and in a fun way.

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham – Classic and seminal post-apocalyptic look at whatever society has left to offer when civilization lies in ruin around them.

When Worlds Collide and After Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer – Another classic (and even older) look at post-apocalypse.  Except there isn’t even an earth left and the ruins to be explored are on another world from another vanished civilization.

The Thing by Alan Dean Foster – Alan Dean Foster is a talented and prolific author.  In this instance, he was tasked to novelize the screenplay for the original John Carpenter movie The Thing, which itself was based upon an earlier short story by John Campbell.  Foster brought the novel to life in a way that I think eclipsed even the movie.  It also expanded upon the movie as it was based upon the initial screenplay rather than the finished film.

There are many, many more books I’ve loved and re-read over the years.  These are just some highlights and by no means comprehensive.  But an actual list would be too long.