A Few Favorite Books

I read across genres but have noticed that there are threads that weave through many of my favorites. Over and over, I am hooked by stories where a character’s perspective is the key to the story, and where the setting is integral to both perspective and plot. The handful of books below are examples that have stuck with me for years.

The Ambassadors – Henry James

As with so many of James’s stories, most of the “action” here is with the characters — it’s a “thoughts and feelings” story, one where the external plot drives internal action. I like the story, too – 19th century Americans in Europe (scandal ensues) – but the real story is character development. Inside the dense prose (long sentences and precise language) is an introvert’s drama.

(Amazon link)

Foreigner – C.J.Cherryh

I have read most of the series, but I’ve re-read the first book a handful of times. So many things I love about it: it’s a richly imagined world, with a non-human society that feels so real I feel like I should be able to go read a history of it; three-way culture clash; politics and personalities… And a protagonist that has to think his way through his trials, using his unique perspective and understanding of the alien culture. Cherryh’s writing makes it possible to really be in the story in a way that feels personal.

(Amazon link)

Here Be Dragons – Sharon Kay Penman

I enjoy Penman’s historical fiction, and this one is a favorite. Part of the pleasure in this comes from the way the setting (Wales in the 13th century) is almost a character. Yes, there’s a love story, and yes, there are nasty villains and epic battles, but everything plays out against the backdrop of a nearly mythic landscape. The idea of ancient and wild Wales is a presence throughout the novel.

(Amazon link)

The Sparrow – Mary Doria Russell

This book is hard to stop thinking about. The characters drew me in, and Russell unfolds the story through the protagonist’s perspective so perfectly that I felt like I was with him as he lived his adventure. Like in Foreigner, the protagonist here has a unique relationship with the alien society. What’s different here is that the reader witnesses the early exploration of that society – before the differences in perspective have been discovered and understood.

(Amazon link)