As I've mentioned many times before, I love to read. I had a brief spell a while ago where I was spending more time listening to podcasts or music and less time lost in a book, but lately I've gotten back in the habit of reading during my commute, and I'm glad that I have! Part of the reason that I've been making more time to read, though, is that I've been lucky enough to pick up a slew of great books that it is my pleasure to recommend.
Circe by Madeline Miller
Circe is probably best known as one of the many characters from The Odyssey, a witch queen who initially turns Odysseus' men into pigs before becoming his ally and lover, and giving him valuable advice for his eventual return home. This feminist retelling of the story is at once bleak and hopeful; Circe is a minor goddess who, like many other women in myth (and Greek society, and modern society), is heartbreakingly vulnerable to the will and whims of the men around her. She finds her strength in witchcraft, discovering that she has the power to create change - both literal, as when she turns another nymph into the monstrous Scylla, and metaphorical, when by her example other good daughters are shown that rebellion is possible. It's a beautifully written novel, sweeping in scope and with a powerful message of love, strength, and defiance, and it's one of my favorite reads so far this year.
Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
I am pretty arachnophobic - a couple of days ago I found a small spider on my clothes, and even after I killed it I kept brushing madly at myself because WHAT IF THERE ARE MORE?! So you would think that a novel that alternates perspectives between humans searching space for a new homeworld and the GIANT SPIDERS who already live on said new homeworld would not be my thing at all. As you may have guessed from its inclusion on this list, though, you would be wrong! Set in a far future where warring factions of humanity have destroyed the earth, leaving their last few descendants to wander through space in search of a new home, Children of Time isn't your typical humans vs. aliens story. On a planet originally terraformed as part of a scientific experiment, a species of spiders has become evolved with the help of a nanovirus. Every other chapter is from the point of view of the spiders as they advance technologically, go to war with other species on the planet, find religion, and finally begin their own journey into space. The humans have their own struggles to contend with - an aging ship, a power mad commander, a mutiny, and a sense of time grown fractured by long years in cryogenic sleep - but I found myself racing through the human-centric chapters to find out what would happen next with the GIANT SPIDERS. Sometimes I find sci-fi that tries too hard to be innovative and literary straight up weird and, frankly, pretty much unreadable; this book tackles big themes in a new, exciting way, while also featuring elegant prose and compelling characters.
The Innamorati by Midori Snyder
I was looking for some book recommendations recently when I found an AMA on reddit with one of my favorite authors, Catherynne Valente. A book that she said influenced her own writing was The Innamorati, a book that is itself influenced by Italian Commedia dell'Arte and Boccaccio's Decameron. From across a version of Renaissance Italy, a motley crew of characters are drawn to an enchanted maze, the Labirinto, which is purported to be able to lift the curse of any who can find their way through it. The cursed include a Venetian mask-maker, a siren, a stuttering actor, and a decadent priest, among others, and their journeys both to the maze and through it are filled with wonder and inventive imagery. Although I wasn't totally satisfied with the resolution, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and I've found myself Googling around to find other books set during the Italian Renaissance or about the Commedia dell'Arte.
SPQR by Mary Beard
Mary Beard is a well known author of popular history, and I first heard about SPQR (which stands for Senātus Populusque Rōmānus, or The Senate and People of Rome) a few years ago, when it was released to excellent reviews. Brian kept suggesting that we read it together, but, to be honest, I just don't have the patience to read at his pace. I finally picked it up for myself, and I'm really enjoying it so far! It's the only book on this list that I haven't finished yet; it's a comprehensive history of ancient Rome, and while it's very readable for what it is, it's still... well, a comprehensive history of ancient Rome. I've been listening to some great history podcasts lately, including one called The Fall of Rome, and this is a great supplemental text to give you a broader picture of the formation of the civilization, as well as the people and events that helped to make Rome a world power.
What are some good books that you've read recently?