The Tennis Partner, by Abraham Verghese

Verghese writes a beautiful and rich story of friendship and hardship. He describes flawed characters that you don’t necessarily love, yet you find yourself sucked into their lives and unable to escape until the tragic end. I admire anyone who can write an unflattering (or not-that-flattering) autobiography/memoir, as that takes a level of skill and honesty that can’t be found just anywhere. Verghese shows how passions can follow you throughout life and shape your experiences, and he offers insight into loneliness, the ups and downs of starting again and getting by in life. The Tennis Partner is elegant and unforced, and it flows like a well-matched tennis volley between friends.

The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett

I read all 450 pages in one day. One glorious fantasy, demon and dark magic filled day. Put compelling characters in a stunning apocalyptic fantasy settings, add great monsters, appealing adventure and compelling stories and you have this fun escapist novel. I haven’t been this lost in a book/pulled out of reality in a long time, and it felt oh-so-good.

Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne

Classic Verne adventure novel. Worth reading, as it’s a classic, but it is no great work of literature, sexist (I swear I can read a novel and not label it as “sexist”…just not this one) and full of flat characters, but at the time of its writing it would have been a great adventure in installments, it helped form a new genre and it is fun to read as a throwback to the 19th century and what the masses were reading at that time. Quick and easy to read, if nothing else.

Hocus Pocus, by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut always impresses me with his writing style, emotion, clarity and, simply put, talent. I love the reality and honesty he portrays in all his novels–if everyone would just read a book by him, we would never need to argue about whether or not war is a bad idea again.

Hocus Pocus is not a feel-good book. You can all but touch the bitterness, disillusionment and disgust simply oozing out of this book. His other books (that I’ve read) balance emotions, but Vonnegut doesn’t even pretend to offer a counter-view in this novel. This does not make Hocus Pocus an easy book to read, as it’s a guaranteed bad mood–but it’s a bad mood that makes you think and reevaluate just how much you buy into social structures and politics.

Dream Jungle, by Jessica Hagedorn

Hagedorn has a lovely, rich and engaging writing style, but this book lacked cohesion and an overall sense of wholeness. There were half-finished characters, half-finished stories and a half-finished connection between the characters and stories.