Mary Soon Lee: Favorite Books
Hello and welcome. I've been writing since 1991, but long before I
ever thought of writing my own stories, I loved to read other
people's. If you would like to know more about me, visit
my home page.
Books that I have read relatively recently and loved. Too soon to know whether
they will become permanent favorites. For those who want even more information
on my reading life, I write reviews at Goodreads.
- The Expanse series, James S. A. Corey
- The Mongrel Mage, L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
- Witchmark, C. L. Polk
- Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik
- The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. If I had to name
my favorite book in the world, then nine days out of ten, I would pick
The Lord of the Rings, an epic fantasy trilogy set in an
imaginary world of great depth and beauty.
- The Earthsea books by Ursula Le Guin. When I was
growing up, I loved the first three Earthsea books ("A Wizard
of Earthsea" + "The Tombs of Atuan" + "The Farthest Shore").
The books stand alone, but are linked by the
character of Ged, and by the setting: an archipelago where wizards
learn the power of words, and dragons can still be found in remote
reaches. Years after writing the first three books, Ursula Le Guin returned to Earthsea to
write a fourth book, "Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea," which
deals with matters previously in the background of the stories, such as the limited
options open to women, and the losing of power. To me, Tehanu
is as evocative and imaginative and wonderful as the
earlier books. After writing "Tehanu," Ursula K. Le Guin
returned to Earthsea again with the superb collection of
stories, "Tales from Earthsea," and another superb novel, "The Other Wind."
- The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin. The book is both
the story of an individual, Shevek, and the story of two societies:
Anarres -- the anarchist, poor, utopian society he grew up in, and
Urras -- the rich, complex, power-dealing, money-using society he
travels to. I have loved the character of Shevek since I met him
when I was a child.
- Among Others by Jo Walton, set in 1979-1980 and narrated by
a 15-year-old girl who reads vast quantities of science fiction and
fantasy, as well as other books. In 1979-1980 I was a 14-year-old girl
who read vast quantities of science fiction and fantasy, as well as
other books. I cannot tell how effective the book would be for someone
who doesn't share that background, but for me it was an entirely
wonderful book to read. I loved it. I loved the
mostly-not-even-explained references to science fiction and fantasy
stories; I loved the warmth toward libraries, books, librarians,
fellow readers, science fiction fans, the community of readers.... It
is also the only book I love that has fairies in it. (Normally
the word "fairy" makes my hackles rise.)
- Jack McDevitt's science fiction. I find it difficult
to choose my favorites among Jack McDevitt's books, but the ideas
in Eternity Road and in The Engines of God have stayed
with me. Jack McDevitt is a master at creating thoughtful,
well-written, entertaining science fiction stories.
- Guy Gavriel Kay's fantasy. The settings for Guy Gavriel Kay's fantasies
meticulously draw on historical roots and weave them into something
new. There is an artifice to Kay's writing style that might be jarring
if it were executed less well, but which Kay has mastered and which I
love in his hands. Three of my favorite books of his are A Song for
Arbonne, The Lions of Al-Rassan, and Under Heaven.
- Swordspoint, by Ellen Kushner.
There is little or no magic in this novel, and yet the setting and
the atmosphere are those of a fantasy milieu, where a swordsman's
skill is a matter of life and death, where elegance and mannered
replies define a society, and where the narrative prose is smooth
perfection. A delight. N.B. I also love "The Privilege of the Sword,"
by Ellen Kushner, which is set in the same milieu.
- The Thief (and its sequels), Megan Whalen Turner.
The Thief appears to be marketed as a young adult book,
but I think it would appeal to anyone from nine to ninety.
It is a beautifully-told fantasy tale: quiet, understated,
intelligent, with excellent moments of humor, the fantasy
elements rarely shown yet critical to the story, the
characters wonderfully drawn. I first read it
in 2018. Within less than a year, I had re-read it to myself,
then read it aloud to both my children -- the only book I've
read to my teenage son in quite a while.
- The Liaden Universe books by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.
These books cover a wide range of moods, characters, and time periods
within one science-fiction universe. Characters appear, disappear,
then resurface in major or minor roles in later volumes. I particularly
like Necessity's Child, which has a sweetness to the characters, and
particularly to the characters' care for one another, that moved me
very much. I also particularly like Conflict of Honors, one of
the rare books that lifts me straight into happiness, perhaps
because of how the characters help each other out; it has
a pervasive lightness to it despite the moments of dramatic peril.
- Watership Down, by Richard Adams. This is one of my
all-time favorite children's books. In describing the heroic adventures
of a band of rabbits, Richard Adams endows the animals with
their own language, personalities, and a rich rabbit mythology.
- Aimed at younger children than Watership Down, my
favorite character in a children's book -- perhaps in any book -- is
Mary Plain, an unusual bear-cub from the bear pits at Berne. Gwynedd
Rae wrote at least ten books about Mary Plain and her friend the Owl
Man, beginning with Mostly Mary. The Mary Plain books are
refreshingly free from didactic messages teaching children how to
behave -- Mary Plain is greedy and rather conceited, enthusiastic and
trouble-prone, but the affection between Mary Plain and the Owl Man,
and between Gwynedd Rae and her characters, shines through.
- The Lord of the Rings is probably my favorite book, but
Jane Austen might be my favorite author. My personal
favorites out of her half-a-dozen novels are Pride and
Prejudice, Emma, and Northanger Abbey, but they are
all excellent, beautifully written, witty tales portraying the world
Jane Austen grew up in, that of a middle class English woman around
- The Jump-Off Creek, by Molly Gloss.
Sparsely but beautifully written, The Jump-Off Creek shows a
small group of characters settling the Western frontier. At the
center of the cast of characters is Lydia Sanderson, a widow working
to set up a homestead on her own. Though never falsely sentimental,
the author's compassion for the characters is clear.
- The Aubrey/Maturin series of historical naval
adventures by Patrick O'Brian, starting with "Master and Commander."
By times funny, moving, riveting, harrowing, beautiful, these books
have many strengths, including the developing friendship between
Aubrey and Maturin, and the evocation of life at sea.
- Alexander McCall Smith's oeuvre. These books are another
staple of my summertime/vacation reading. The Number One Ladies'
Detective Agency series is light reading, but in the best possible
way. They are uplifting, moving, emotional books set in Botswana and
centered in the thoroughly likable main character of Madame Ramotswe.
I also love his 44 Scotland Street series.
- Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson.
A beautifully written, beautifully translated, bittersweet novel.
The story switches back and forth between the narrator's current life and his youth,
particularly the summer that he spent with his father in a remote
Norwegian forest. The author's love for both the characters and the landscape
is clear and moving. In addition to Out Stealing Horses, I also
very much like several other Petterson novels: In the Wake,
It's Fine By Me, and I Refuse.
- The Harry Bosch detective series by Michael Connelly,
staring with "The Black Echo." Michael Connelly's books have become
one of the staples of my summertime/vacation reading, which is not to
say his books are light (indeed they are often very dark), but they
are -- at least for me -- page-turners. I particularly like Harry
Bosch, and I have been trying to ration my way through the books about