Guest Post: Top Five Novels That Make Great Holiday Gifts This Year

A book can make a heartfelt present – it is not only a thoughtful extension of your likes and interests, but also an invitation for the gift’s recipient to join in on the adventure of the book you love.

So, for this holiday season, no matter what genre you are looking for or who you are shopping for, one of these five best-selling books will be sure to impress that special someone.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (4 stars)

Genre: Horror and Paranormal

In September, Stephen King finally released his much-anticipated sequel to the 1977 The Shining and boy, is it good. We are brought back to the terror and madness introduced in the original and meet a much older, middle-aged Dan Torrance (the son, and “redrum” Danny in The Shining).

Years after the events that occurred in The Shining, Dan has followed in his dad’s footsteps of alcoholism and cynicism. Eventually, he settles down and takes a job in a nursing home, comforting the elderly and becoming known as “Doctor Sleep”. There is a traveling group of psychic vampires called the “True Knot,” who feed on children with “the shining.” Dan meets a 12-year old girl named Abra Stone, who possesses similar powers, and the demons he once repressed come back to haunt him as he tries to protect Abra from the True Knot.

This book is sure to impress friends and family who are fans of Stephen King’s past work, and other horror-genre lovers who aren’t already King aficionados. For those who want to enjoy the film adaptation of King’s story, The Shining is now streaming on DirecTV, and there are talks of a Shining prequel film in the works called The Overlook Hotel.

The Cider House Rules by John Irving (5 stars)

Genre: Coming-of-age

An oldie but a (classic) goodie, the 1985 novel The Cider House Rules by John Irving is a great gift to give this season. Featuring well-developed characters and covering heavy topics, this novel is perfect for the teenager you just can’t figure out what to get.

It is a classic and beloved coming-of-age novel that follows the life of Homer Wells, an orphan who never was adopted, and Dr. Wilbur Larch, a saint and obstetrician at the orphanage. We watch Homer grow up and learn under Wilbur, as Wilbur learns to love Homer as a son. When Homer finds out a dark secret about Wilbur, he leaves the orphanage and starts a new life on an apple orchard. In the end, we watch Homer fill the shoes of Wilbur and handle the issues of abortion, relationships and love.

This is a case of “read before you watch,” as the 1999 film adaptation starring a young Tobey Maguire does not live up to Irving’s writing.

The Circle by Dave Eggers (4 stars)

Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller

One of my favorite authors, Dave Eggers, also responsible for What is the What, just released this new thriller, which reads like the prequel to George Orwell’s 1984. The Circle is perfect for the Sci-Fi fans, tech buffs, and Dave Egger enthusiasts like myself.

We are introduced to Mae Holland who has just been hired to work for the Circle, a tech company that’s eerily reminiscent of Google which creates one online identity and a new form of transparency for web users. The Circle believes that “Secrets Are Lies and Privacy is Theft”. However, the Circle has its own secrets and Mae is forced to confront the challenging issues of privacy and the ever-increasing power of technology over our society. The novel encapsulates a modern technology and social media centered dystopia and reflects the fears of today’s society over technology.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (3.5 stars)

Genre: Crime, Mystery

Gone Girl is a surprising and fresh tale for the person on your list who loves to solves a good old fashioned mystery. The novel follows a married couple, Amy and Nick, as Amy disappears and Nick becomes the main suspect. Flynn alternates between Nick and Amy’s points of view, and we are strung along by lies and twists by both parties. It is not your conventional thriller; we have untrustworthy protagonists and are led away from the average love stories that are commonly mingled into crime novels.

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (5 stars)

Genre: Action, Adventure

For Lost enthusiasts, and fans of J.J. Abrams other works, S. is a fantastic addition to any book collection. It is not only a good read, but also quite the adventure. When you take the book out of the slipcase, you will find a book inside titled Ship of Theseus, filled with pages that are highlighted and notes in the margins, postcards, letters and news clipping, similar to Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. S. forces the readers to become a part of the mysteries inside and chronicles two readers, one author and lots of numbers and codes.

So, for the bookworms you still have on your holiday shopping list, get them one of these five best-selling novels for the holidays and you can’t lose.

Kate Voss
@kateevoss

Bookbanter Column: The Power of Character (January 25, 2013)

Readers can be divided mostly into two categories, and a smaller number into a third.  There are readers who choose, read and enjoy books for the story, the plot, what the whole thing is about; get caught up in it and stay hooked to the very end, enjoying the entire tale.  Then there are readers who pick and read books for characters, for unique people they become fascinated in reading about, knowing that they drive the story and keep reading to find out where and how the characters will end up.

And then there are the readers that enjoy books for both character and story equally.  But we’re not going to talk about that contingent today.  Today we’re focusing on those readers who look for books that are character-driven.  They are the type of people who study and seek out people interacting in their lives, and relish reading about it on the page, seeing what makes people tick, how they will act and react in certain situations, and how when two or more are brought together in a specific situation, what exactly will happen.

Unsurprisingly, there are writers like this too; likely because they are these same types of people.  It is people they like to write about, and not so much the story, as they let their characters drive said story, not always certain where they are going to take it, but always excited about the ride.  Two particular authors who do this and do this very well, as shown by their international bestsellerdom, are Haruki Murakami and John Irving.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,  Kafka on the Shore, 1Q84.

Haruki Murakami is a massive author celebrity in his native Japan, as well as around the world.  Perhaps best known for one of his early works, Norwegian Wood, many of his other books have gone on to become just as popular, such as The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleKafka on the Shore, and most recently with his epic three-volume tome, 1Q84.

When one picks up a Murakami book — whether it be a novel or short story collection — one knows they are in for a real treat, as the story will be unique and fascinating and certain to be one wild ride, but it is all due to the characters.  Murakami begins with a character, a type of person you likely haven’t met before, with an interesting life, that immediately draws you into the story, and it is the choices and decisions that this character makes that drives the story.

You may be saying: well this is true for all stories, that characters makes choices and the story moves forward, but they key is whether an event happens in a story that forces a character to make a decision, or whether the character makes a decision that then forces an event in the story.

With Murakami it’s always about the character making that decision or choice that forces the event and moves the story along.

The same can be said for John Irving.

The Cider House Rules, The World According to Garp  The Hotel New Hampshire, A Prayer for Owen Meany, In One Person, Son of the Circus

Irving is perhaps best known for his bestselling novel, The Cider House Rules (as well as the popular movie adaptation), but has written many books that have become just as big, including The World According to Garp  The Hotel New Hampshire, and  A Prayer for Owen Meany.  His most recent book is In One Person.

While Murakami may perhaps be best known for having fascinating individual characters with each of his books, Irving is the master of the all star cast of special people.

To say that Irving’s characters are flawed characters is putting it extremely lightly for his books; everyone has some sort of problem, but it is because of this that the characters make the choices that they do that further the plot and lead to the next chapter.  And this is what Irving’s readers enjoy most about his books, as they look forward to seeing where these characters’ choices will lead them.

Nobody in this world is perfect, and so when we read about flawed characters, we perhaps can see a little of ourselves in them and are therefore fascinated in seeing where they end up.

Writers or books aren’t better for being plot-driven or character-driven, and readers shouldn’t think otherwise.  Everyone is different; which is why there are many different types of writers and many different types of readers in the world.  Character-driven stories and books will continue to be written by authors like Haruki Murakami, John Irving and many others; and there will continue to be many readers for these types of works who receive great entertainment in reading about what happens to a character when they make a specific choice or decision.

Originally published on Forces of Geek.

Bookbanter Column: The Power of Character

Readers can be divided mostly into two categories, and a smaller number into a third.  There are readers who choose, read and enjoy books for the story, the plot, what the whole thing is about; get caught up in it and stay hooked to the very end, enjoying the entire tale.  Then there are readers who pick and read books for characters, for unique people they become fascinated in reading about, knowing that they drive the story and keep reading to find out where and how the characters will end up.

And then there are the readers that enjoy books for both character and story equally.  But we’re not going to talk about that contingent today.  Today we’re focusing on those readers who look for books that are character-driven.  They are the type of people who study and seek out people interacting in their lives, and relish reading about it on the page, seeing what makes people tick, how they will act and react in certain situations, and how when two or more are brought together in a specific situation, what exactly will happen.

Unsurprisingly, there are writers like this too; likely because they are these same types of people.  It is people they like to write about, and not so much the story, as they let their characters drive said story, not always certain where they are going to take it, but always excited about the ride.  Two particular authors who do this and do this very well, as shown by their international bestsellerdom, are Haruki Murakami and John Irving.

[CONTINUE READING . . .]

“The Fourth Hand” by John Irving (Random House, 2001)

The Fourth Handstarstarstar

John Irving has to be one of the most gifted writers, creating unique characters that can never be forgotten, and he does it once again with The Fourth Hand.

Our main character is Patrick Wallingford, a very unusual person and certifiably doomed in that Irving way.  And while Irving’s past books may have roared from start to finish, The Fourth Hand does the same right up to the last fifty pages or so, where it slows to a crawl, and everyone conveniently lives happily ever after.

Patrick Wallingford has his hand bitten off by a lion in India while doing a segment for an American news channel.  He wants to get as close as possible to all the action, since that is his job, and ends up losing his right hand instead.  A few years later, after a successful website advertising the need for a donor hand to test a new hand transplant technology, a donor gives one, having recently committed suicide.  The wife of the donor, Doris Clausen, flies to Massachusetts with the hand where she wants to “certify” the receiver.

Sadly, it does not stick, and after six months the hand needs to be removed.  Nevertheless, a strange fourth, phantom hand seems to remain that Wallingford swears he really feels, especially when he gets excited.  At the same time, a relationship develops between Wallingford and Clausen: she sort of falls in love with for he once “held” all that remained of her husband, while he is besotted with her, but is unable to realize how important she is to him.

The result is a very strange yet extremely entertaining novel that contacts a cast of fantastic characters brought to life through the zany and perverted mind of John Irving.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally published on February 4th 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.

“Last Night in Twisted River” by John Irving (Random House, 2009)

Last Night in Twisted Riverstarstarstar

In John Irving’s twelfth novel, the Twisted River of the title is a small logging and sawmill settlement in New Hampshire.  Irving begins the book with a drowning and a death and then spends the next twenty pages with an in-depth history of the logging industry; finally in the second chapter some of his unique characters are introduced and it begins to feel like a classic Irving novel that fans love to read.  A cook and his twelve-year old son have to flee when the boy accidentally kills a woman he thought was a bear, with an iron skillet.  And so begins a lifetime spent watching their backs, as the son grows up to become a successful novelist (emulating Irving’s footsteps).

Written in the style of A Prayer for Owen Meany, Irving likes to ply the reader with foreshadowing (and in some cases fiveshadowing) to set up what is to come.  Of course, it wouldn’t be an Irving novel if there weren’t some unexpected events, as everyone knows this writer likes to be ruthless with his characters.  Politics, the Vietnam War, abortion, and many other daily life troubles affect the characters, sending them off on unpredictable tangents.  The Last Night in Twisted River begins in New Hampshire, then moves on to Boston and finally Toronto (where Irving has a home), taking the characters through their lives to the final sentence of the book, which is how Irving likes to begin his books: “He felt that the great adventure of his life was just beginning – as his father must have felt, in the throes of dire circumstances of his last night in Twisted River.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on December 12th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

BookBanter Episode 22 with Jeff VanderMeer

Play Episode

In Episode 22 of BookBanter you will hear my third interview live from the World Fantasy Convention with author Jeff VanderMeer. VanderMeer writes his own books, edits anthologies, and even does writer workshops. His books include City of Saints and Madmen and Shriek: An Afterword, while some of the anthologies he has edited include Fast Ships Black Sails and The New Weird. He has two new books out: Finch, a work of fiction, and Booklife, a fantastic book on writing and how to become a successful writer no matter what level you are.

Featured in the episode are my reviews for Booklife, Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving, The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins; to purchase any of these books, click on the covers below :

Canticle Lamentation Depraved Leviathan

This episode of BookBanter is brought to you by Angie’s List. At Angie’s List you’ll find thousands of unbiased ratings on services for home improvements, car repairs, and even doctors. Gain access to thousands of reviews on local service providers for Home improvement Auto Repair, Accounting, Animal Care, Health Care and even Weddings.  Let Angie’s List take away the guesswork. Find the service provider your neighbors gave the highest rating.  Join Angie’s List and use promo code “book” for 25% off your membership!  Just go to Angieslist.com.

I would once again like to thank Cheryl Morgan for getting me all set up at the World Fantasy Convention.

After enjoying this episode, why not check out the new BookBanter Blog, where you can find out about everything related to BookBanter, books, writing, and whatever else I feel like writing about .

I’ll see you next time, on January 1st, 2010, where I’ll be interviewing author Guy Gavriel Kay, who’s new book Under Heaven, is due out April 27th.

Until then, keep reading!

Alex C. Telander.