Bryan’s Summer Reading List

With my first semester of Masters English studies looming in the near future, it is time to put novels back on the shelf and turn my attention back to Shakespeare and Dante for a while. There is never enough time to read everything, as every book lover knows, whether bound by other studies or not. However, before I return to essays and literary critique, I wanted to highlight some of the amazing books I read in between semesters.

• SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE and CATS CRADLE by Kurt Vonnegut
I had never read a Vonnegut novel before and thought it was past time to add him to my reading repertoire. After reading these books, it is easy to see why he is lauded as a genius. Packed with lofty concepts about humanity and metaphysics, his main talent lay in giving the reader an insight into beautifully crafted characters and raw emotion that few others can tap into in such a magnificent way. Like so many other masterpieces, the books tell a simple enough narrative, but with so much depth beneath each page that they force your way into your psyche for weeks after.

• DARK TOWER I-IV by Stephen King
Inspired by the impending release of the movie, I couldn’t resist saddling up with Roland and his ka-tet for another adventure along the path of the Beam. Many of you who are readers are more than likely familiar with these books. This is my fourth or fifth rereading of these books and every time I go back, I find details I missed or characters I fall in love with all over again. If you haven’t read them before, this is King’s magnum opus. Roland, an antihero if there ever was one, is on a knightly quest for the Dark Tower, the axis upon which all realities turn. As he single-mindedly pursues his goal, readers will encounter many other characters and places from King’s other works. It is a genuine epic in scope and scale and one of my all-time favorite series.

• DIVIDING EDEN by Joelle Charbonneau
While ostensibly a young adult book, Charbonneau crafts an epic tale in a fantasy world filled with betrayal, power bartering, and richly crafted characters. The first of what I hope will be many books to come, this book hits hard and avoids the clichés that are all too common in the YA genre. The heroine is not on some quest to find love, but instead works to find the best path for her kingdom following her father’s mysterious death. This is a great book to read with your kids, as you will enjoy it as much as they will, and few things connect the generations as a darn good book!

• THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER and DROWN by Junot Diaz
Diaz has won a host of awards from a MacArthur Genius Fellowship to a Pulitzer Prize. I encountered his work in a class last semester and was blown away by his talent and unique writing style. Amazing characters and heart-wrenching plots are the hallmark of his magnificent prose. He is funny, dark, crushingly sad, and beautifully redemptive in all of his books. His narrative style will grab you from the first page and hold you until the very end.

• STAR WARS: THRAWN by Timothy Zahn
I am a huge Star Wars fan and have been since my youth. Timothy Zahn’s revolutionary trilogy of novels from the early 90’s was my first foray into the expanded universe, that is, the stories outside of the movies. Grand Admiral Thrawn was presented as one of the baddest baddies in the Star Wars universe and commands a fandom that may only be rivaled by Boba Fett in this universe. His latest novel chronicles the rise of Thrawn through the treacherous ranks of the Empire. While it is a science fiction novel by its very nature, at its core it is a taught political thriller that reminds the reader more of HOUSE OF CARDS than STAR WARS: REBELS. It is a great book for fans and non-fans alike. But, if you’re like me and have loved Thrawn for decades, this is the book you have been craving through the years.

• THE SAVIOR’S GAME by Sean Chercover
All great things must come to an end, and it is no different for Sean Chercover’s Daniel Byrne trilogy. If you haven’t read the previous two books, get them. If you have, then you have been eagerly awaiting the release of this novel, as the author left you with a whopper of a cliffhanger at the end of book two that would make EMPIRE STRIKES BACK frustrated. But now, your wait is over and I can promise you that it is well worth it. I mentioned earlier that I had picked up my first Vonnegut earlier in the summer. Well folks, if Vonnegut had written a thriller, the result would have certainly been THE SAVIOR’S GAME. Filled with high level concepts in physics and about the nature of reality, mixed with a thrilling plot that never lets up on the gas, this book will fly through your fingers. Chercover tops his trilogy in epic fashion with a style and intelligence that will leave the reader breathless.

• THE LOVECRAFT SQUAD by John Llewellyn Probert
I was skeptical to say the least when I saw this book on my pile of review books. The back describes a group of people who protect the world from supernatural threats like those written about by H.P. Lovecraft. So I assumed that it would be another bland supernatural thriller with elements of the old gods. However, as the weeks went on, it kept calling to me and I finally broke. Boy am I glad I did. This is a horror novel to rival all horror novels! It takes its time to build the characters and atmosphere then suddenly sinks its hook so deep into you that you have no choice but to go along for the ride. Elements of Clive Barker, THE EXORCIST, Dante, and of course, Lovecraft conspire in Probert’s hands to take readers on a trip so dark and frightening that you may need to sleep with a light on.

• THE NOWHERE MAN by Gregg Hurwitz
I love Evan Smoak. He is a character on par with Repairman Jack, Jack Reacher, or any other hero of the genre. In the sequel to ORPHAN X, his killer with a code explodes back on to the page. This is one of the few sequels, that I can confidently say surpasses the first book, and I adored the first book. However, Hurwitz does something brilliant by taking a character who seems nearly invincible in the outside world, and literally traps him. No support, no base of operations, no one coming for help. As such, he ratchets up the danger and excitement, building to a fever pitch as only a great captive story can. With a villain who is equal parts crafty and creepy and a hero who has only his wits to help him escape, THE NOWHERE MAN is an epic thriller that proves that Hurwitz is a master of the craft and Evan Smoak is a character who rises above the rest.

These aren’t in any particular order, nor is there any rhyme or reason to them. Some, I had been eagerly awaiting, some I picked up on a whim. However, I can assure you that each book on this list was one I was happy to pick up, or pick up again, and have no problem telling you to read each of them. Hopefully I will get to one or two more before the semester begins. If they are as amazing as these, I will be sure to let you know. Otherwise, I shall be supping on Shakespeare and dining with Dante until December, watching my to be read pile rise like the Tower of Babel until I can return to it again.
– Bryan VanMeter