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Non-fantasy/SF recommendations thread (literary, non-fic etc)

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#1 Werthead


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Posted 17 May 2012 - 04:19 PM

This thread is for recommendations for non-SF/fantasy books, including 'literary' fiction, historical fiction, biographies and non-fiction.

Borrowing from Datepalm's excellent rules list:

To keep it useful and relevant for people trying to find a book to read, I ask that when posting in this thread, you stick to a few points:

- Posts need to contain the name of the series, the name of the author, and a sentence or two of description or opinion.

- Praise and criticism should try to be helpful to someone trying to make their mind what to read, and not context-free subjective opinion: "I thought it had strong characterization, but somewhat unoriginal worldbuilding," is useful. Simply saying "I totally loved it, everyone should read it," - not so much.

- Feel free to post a rec even if someone already has, so long as you're not repeating them word for word. An accumulation of opinion can be useful.

- Differing opinions on books that have been brought up is fine, but don't be the first to post a book you don't recommend at all. We have "worst book" threads for that.

- Rec separate series in separate posts. This will help to eventually consolidate different recs for the same book together.

- Keep things short. Anything longer than a paragraph - find/start a thread for it.

- This is not the place to discuss peoples recs. If someone recs Goodkind Dan Brown, its on their conscience. But go ahead and post a negative opinion, if you like.

- Please don't ask for recommendations in this thread. If it doesn't deliver what you're looking for, have a look in the "What to do before starting a thread asking for recommendations" thread, and then - start a thread.

#2 nickg


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Posted 17 May 2012 - 06:04 PM

<p><p><p>Shogun by James Clavell

The epic story of Captain John Blackthorne, first English Captain to reach Japan, shipwrecked and basically forced to yeild to Toranaga ( based on Ieyasu Tokugawa ) as he struggles to unite Japan in the late 16th century.

This book has everything: epic war story, great politics/manipulation, tragedy and romance, great characterization and character interactions, and is freaking beautifully written - if also has some ninjas ;) -. Its also based off of a very significant and interesting time in Japan.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

Pulitzer Prize winning western. Like Shogun, it basically has everything you are looking for in a good book ( aside from the politics ). Its funny and tragic and romantic and exciting in turn. Has a large cast of characters ( all well done ) headed by Gus McRae and Woodrow Call, two former Texas Rangers driving cattle up to Montana. Pretty insignificant I guess, but it's the journey that's important. Another large book, but still a relatively quick read. Only negative I can think of the smaller number of female characters and how they are handled ( the most prominent female is, you guessed it, a prostitute ). He does a great job of portraying the setting and period.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon*

Another Pulitzer Winner. Chabon packs a ton into this novel; history of the golden age of comics ( accurate as far as I know ), the Holocaust, WW2. All while following the two main characters adventures and struggles. Beautifully written. Also, I think mid 20th century New York was very well created.

* I know The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay has some fantasy elements ( the golem for instance ). If you think I should move it I will.

Edited by nickg, 17 May 2012 - 06:52 PM.

#3 Inigima


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Posted 17 May 2012 - 06:47 PM

I tried unsuccessfully to get BwB Book Club to read this several times, but: This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper is amazing. Tropper has very limited range, as you will quickly see if you start reading more of his work, but he writes amazingly. This is his most recent and, in my opinion, his best. Close behind it I'd put The Book of Joe.

#4 Samalander


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Posted 18 May 2012 - 08:38 AM

The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson; A gripping thriller masterpiece interwoven with social commentary and a fascinatingly flawed female lead set in gloomy* Sweden.
The Runaway Jury by John Grisham; Tongue in cheek legal hustle...interwoven with social commentary. Fun and educational.
1948** by Yoram Kaniuk; The author's personal memories from the war preceding the formation of the state of Israel. Moving and informative.
Memories After My Death*** by Yair Lapid; Biography of colourful Israeli figure Tommy Lapid written by his son (soon to be a political leader of note in his own right?). A riveting page turner.
The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water by Charles Fishman; The title of the book seems pretty self-explanatory to me. People interested in the subject of water should buy this book.

* Swedish board members need not jump down my throat. It comes off gloomy in the books.
** Coming out to Kindles worldwide in November 2012.
*** Seems it's out of print on Amazon, and really expensive, too...but people should be able to get it on Kindle.

Edited by Samalander, 17 June 2012 - 04:05 AM.

#5 haLobEnder


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Posted 18 May 2012 - 10:55 AM

The not-officially-titled series that begins with Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. While some may consider it borderline fantasy --or 'magical realism' at the very least-- its generally regarded by most people as literature or historical fiction, and thus may be overlooked by some on this board.
A Gothic, beautifully-written series with diabolical undertones. All the books take place in early/mid-twentieth century Barcelona and feature a cast of characters that are both interesting and sympathetic. There's nothing else quite like it on shelves today --believe me, I've looked.

Edited by halO bendeR, 18 May 2012 - 10:59 AM.

#6 Nearly Headless Ned

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Posted 18 May 2012 - 12:03 PM

Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell.
The desperate struggle of young Ree Dolly to find her missing father across the bleak Ozark landscape, peopled with menacing characters undecided as weather to kill or help her.
This is old fashioned storytelling-the protaganist has a destination to reach at the end but on the way she meets various strange creatures such as Uncle Teardrop, The Three Sisters and most dangerous of all Thump Milton.

Also Woodrell is possibly the best prose stylists around to day.

Ree Dolly stood at break of day on her cold front steps and smelled coming flurries and saw meat. Meat hung from trees across the creek. The carcasses hung pale of flesh with a fatty gleam from low limbs of saplings in the side yards. Three halt haggard houses formed a kneeling rank on the far creekside and each had two or more skinned torsos dangling by rope from sagged limbs, venison left to the weather for two nights and three days so the early blossoming of decay might round the flavor, sweeten that meat to the bone.

#7 Devaki Khanna

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Posted 29 May 2012 - 05:45 AM

Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman
This is a brutally realistic account of Russia under Stalin, even as Russians unite to fight the Nazis in the Battle for Stalingrad (1942). The story focuses on the three Shaposhnikova sisters, Lyuda, Genya and Marusya; their spouses, ex-husbands, children and friends; and goes on from that point to describe vividly the similarities between Stalinism/Communism and National Socialism/Nazism. This book was actually taken into custody by the KGB and not expected to be published for the next two to three hundred years. Grossman, who started his career as an engineer and then switched to journalism--he wrote for the Red Star and was, alongside Ilya Ehrenberg, widely read by the Russian rank and file--died of lung cancer in 1964, not knowing if his book would ever be published.
What resonated with me and sharply reminded me of the ASOIAF world was the manner in which individuals are blamed for institutional blunders--for example, when Commissar Krimov (tthe 100% communist) is arrested because he attempted to impose political discipline on the troops in building 6/1 in Stalingrad, as he was told to do by the party. And what about the letter that Victor Shtrum has to sign at the end of the story? Young Vera with her baby?

#8 Lord of the Night

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Posted 29 May 2012 - 05:53 AM

Flashman by George Fraser MacDonald.



Edited by Stubby, 29 May 2012 - 09:35 PM.
Spoiler Tags added.

#9 Grack21


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Posted 29 May 2012 - 03:32 PM

Spoiler warning maybe?

#10 Reposado


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Posted 03 June 2012 - 04:06 PM

Flashman by George Fraser MacDonald.

It should also be added that there are 12 books in the Flashman series. In each, our anti-hero is thrust into one of the major historical events of the 19th century. (Indian Mutiny, Little Big Horn, Charge of the Light Brigade.) They are all impeccably researched and footnoted, with most of the characters aside from Flashy being based on historical figures, and acting as the record reputes they did. Where there are gaps in the reports of historians, or where there is disagreement, Frasier inserts Flashy. He is sort of a 19th century James Bond crossed with a 19th century Forrest Gump. Anywhere there was action Flashy was there, and he usually ends up profoundly impacting the events without winding up in the record.

They're written as if they were old papers set down by Flashman himself in his old age. (many of the footnotes correct where Flashman "misremembers" something)

They also don't really have to be read in order. They weren't written chronologically and they don't spoil each other. I've read all but two and my personal picks are Flashman and the Dragon and Flashman and the Angel of the Lord.

#11 mnemosyne



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Posted 05 June 2012 - 11:41 AM

Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa.

I found the not-always-linear literary style a bit of a challenge early on, but once I caught on to the shifting perspectives, the novel was challenging and compulsively readable. The novel is set in the 1980s or 1990s, when the Shining Path had virtual control of huge swaths of the Andes. The two main characters - Cpl Lituma and his subaltern Tomasito Carreno are tasked to guard a (doomed?) highway works high in the Andes. Lituma is from the coast and finds the Andean belief systems as alien as the reader. Three men from the works (a mute, an albino, and a foreman) have disappeared and Lituma is obsessed with solving the mystery of their disappearance. He also becomes obsessed with this faery-tale like story that Tomasito tells him about Tomasito's first love - a prostitute named Mercedes (??) whom he 'rescues' from a gang boss and with whom he goes on a surreal journey through the Peruvian countryside.

There are several other stories worked into the texture of the novel and I am now slightly obsessed with the idea of pishtacos - Andean demons who apparently suck the fat out of people until they die (which they then sell to Americans to power spaceships, as you do.). Great, sad, surreal and sometimes deeply terrifying novel.

#12 evening gale

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Posted 05 June 2012 - 05:44 PM

For biography lovers or those interested in Russian history I recommend Peter the Great: His Life and World by Robert K. Massie. Despite being an easy read and highly entertaining, this book contains enough information to earn you at least 6 university credits in Russian history. After you acquaint yourself with Peter the Great you might just forgive him his iron-fist and find yourself an ardent admirer of his passionate and hands-on pursuit of a modern Russia. This book is not your average history tome. Peter was not your average monarch. He traveled through Europe disguised as a carpenter, started Russia's first navy with his own two hands, secured its first warm water seaport and had an unhealthy obsession with dwarfs.

Edited by evening gale, 05 June 2012 - 05:45 PM.

#13 evening gale

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Posted 06 June 2012 - 06:56 PM

Again, for biography lovers or those interested in Russian history I recommend Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie, the story of the ill-fated Romanov family, the last of the Russian dynasties. An account of Imperial Russia’s final days, in typical Massie fashion, it reads like it was written for mass consumption. Political intrigue and the march toward war are interlaced with the intimate details of the Czar’s relationship with his wife and children.

The book reveals a man who was neither equipped nor ready to be czar. He was led around by a wife with a slavish devotion to both the Russian crown and the twisted mystic Rasputin. Their insulated life and myopic outlook ultimately led to the fall of an empire and the murder of their children. IMHO were it not for this narcissistic woman and her naïve husband, Russia may have been spared some of the fate it endured for most of the 20th century.

“In truth, it was better conceptually.” – Karl Marx on his Communist Manifesto (Ok, so he didn’t say that. But he should have.)

Edited by evening gale, 06 June 2012 - 07:01 PM.

#14 Kyle Baratheon

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Posted 11 June 2012 - 04:23 PM

1. Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell
2. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
3. the Great Gatsby - Fitzgerald

#15 Samalander


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Posted 12 June 2012 - 04:27 AM

1. Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell

This one does not belong here.

#16 SkynJay


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Posted 16 June 2012 - 11:53 AM

I have high hopes for this tread, hoping for some good science gone bad type thrillers(i.e. stuff like Congo and Relic). Are we allowed to ask for specific types of recs here?

#17 Inkdaub7



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Posted 17 June 2012 - 05:49 AM

I'd like to second the Chabon and Ruiz Zafon recs...I love both works.

I'll add some others...

Devil in the White City - Erik Larson
---This is a true crime story of the serial killer HH Holmes set against the construction and presentation of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893. I picked this book up because I love stories about serial killers...then discovered the Fair sections to be the most fascinating aspects of the book.

The Given Day - Dennis Lehane
--I liked this book far more than I thought I would. Takes place in Boston, of course, during WWI and follows the families of a white policeman and a black man trying to make things work amid the turmoil of the day. Plus baseball!

Special Topics in Calamity Physics - Marisha Pessl
--Another one I liked far more than I thought I would. A coming-of-age story about family, jealousy, murder and strength. Dumb description but there you go haha.

The Women - TC Boyle
--A story centered on the the three big loves of Frank Lloyd Wright's life.

#18 Cadiva


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Posted 24 June 2012 - 05:41 PM

The not-officially-titled series that begins with Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. While some may consider it borderline fantasy --or 'magical realism' at the very least-- its generally regarded by most people as literature or historical fiction, and thus may be overlooked by some on this board.
A Gothic, beautifully-written series with diabolical undertones. All the books take place in early/mid-twentieth century Barcelona and feature a cast of characters that are both interesting and sympathetic. There's nothing else quite like it on shelves today --believe me, I've looked.

Totally agree, this is a gripping book set in a completely believable world in which the characters jump off the page and are realistic and behave according to their well set out personalities. I couldn't put this book down and am currently waiting for the next in the "series" of books which are loosely set around the Library of Lost Books called The Angel's Game which is a prequel to Shadow of the Wind.

I would also like to add in Markus Zusak's The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger. Both are gripping reads, the first provides an alternative viewpoint to the events of the Second World War and centres around the activities of the residents of a small German town, the second is less easy to describe but is based around the life of a dead beat taxi driver and his unrequited love for his best friend Audrey. It's technically Children's/Young Adult fiction but I found it rises way and above that simplistic genre depiction.

Edited by Cadiva, 24 June 2012 - 05:41 PM.

#19 Apoapsis


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Posted 25 June 2012 - 09:21 AM

Roger Penrose - The Road to Reality.

This is probably the only book on non-speculative physics you'll need to read. It's 1100 pages and it has math in it, which apparently scares some people according to publicists. However, anyone who claims to be able to explain modern physics without math is either an idiot or a charlatan.

#20 Zuzu Bolin

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Posted 01 July 2012 - 02:06 PM

Any James Ellroy, particulary his LA Noir Quartet.

He has a very distinctive style that takes a bit of getting used to but it's worth persevering.