We asked our readers: What was the last book that you couldn't put down, that kept you up all night, that you couldn't stop recommending? We were delightfully surprised by the number of replies we received. Here are some of our favorites. We'll be posting more on a regular basis, so check back often. And if you'd like to submit your own recommendations, click here for instructions.
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Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
Recommended by: Lia M. from Santa Cruz, California
Favorite type of book: Mysteries
I love and write mysteries, but I can't resist telling you about the epic fantasy novel Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. I find that I just can't stop thinking about and recommending it.
As much as I adore crime novels, I often need the change of pace and stretch of imagination that comes from reading science fiction. That's why, in addition to the excellent mysteries I've read lately from terrific writers like Tana French, Matt Haig, and Adrian McKinty, many of my favorite books this year were from outside my own genre, books from writers like Neal Stephenson, Andy Weir, Max Barry, Jo Walton, John Scalzi, and Peter F. Hamilton.
But Sanderson's Words of Radiance actually had me shouting out loud to the author, begging him to please keep my favorite characters alive and whole. I don't remember the last time a novel had me literally crying out.
Except for George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, I hadn't strayed out of science fiction into fantasy since I was a teenager enraptured by The Lord of the Rings. Somehow I'd come to believe that epic fantasy wasn't for me, that "sword and sorcery" was for video game lovers, that science fiction was the limit of my dalliance. But from the minute I started Sanderson's Mistborn books, I was hooked. I moved on from those to Elantris to my favorite (before its sequel, Words of Radiance), The Way of Kings.
These are very fat books. In fact, at around 1,100 pages, Words of Radiance is said to be the very thickest that publisher Tor's printing press can produce. But far from finding the size daunting, Sanderson's books flew by, fascinating me from paragraph one with their alien worlds drawn in exquisite and original detail, each featuring at least one strong, complicated woman as a protagonist (I'd been wrong to assume epic fantasy relegated female characters to support status).
Words of Radiance is a masterful epic, in my opinion. Continuing the story begun in The Way of Kings, it shows the slow bitter struggle of slaves to climb out of depression and injustice to join with other classes and races in elaborate and cutthroat strategies to save the world. That world, so different in geography and customs and natural law from our own, became as concrete to me as my own, thanks to Sanderson's vivid characters, realistic motivations, and highest possible stakes. Reading the book, my real life seemed to fall away, bringing back that joyful kid-again feeling, that first-library-card thrill that all readers cherish. I've recommended Words of Radiance to every Facebook friend and Twitter follower. I know it takes a big leap of faith to believe that a thousand pages can whoosh by in no time at all. But it's a leap I'm glad I took with Sanderson's books.
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Fire at Eden's Gate by Brent Walth
Recommended by: Michael V. K. from Portland, Oregon
Favorite author of all time: Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Favorite type of book: Poetry, books on computer languages, or anything about Oregon
I think everyone should know about this book, this man, and this author. Fire at Eden's Gate: Tom McCall and the Oregon Story has kept me up all night several times. It should be required reading for all prospective Oregonians. Oregon is a lot more than Portlandia, and without Tom McCall, we wouldn't have Portlandia as we know it.
Tom McCall loved Oregon but was certainly not without his shortcomings. Brent Walth captures McCall and his era in a balanced biography that reads a lot more like a page-turning Western than a political biography. Much of what happened in Oregon under McCall's leadership presaged trends that would take national stage four decades later — environmentalism, planning issues, recycling, marijuana, and getting violently split political factions on both the left and right to agree for the sake of Oregon (well, we can hope for that cooperation, anyway).
McCall came from wealth, but it was decaying wealth, the family fortune gone before it could buoy him. McCall rose from small-town journalist to national icon, political leader, and savior of Oregon's troubled environment. Walth rarely lionizes McCall, though, always reminding us that he was a human leader. McCall drank too much, yelled too much, and could be a stubborn asshole, and Walth keeps the human side of McCall mixed in with the debates, the policy, and the successes. It's an Oregon book as much as a McCall book — when the Beach Bill comes up, Walth takes a side trip into Oregon history and conjures the memory of a previous generation's Oregon hero, Oswald West.
At a time when Oregon's leadership is adrift and politicians seem to be losing sight of this great Oregon that deserves quality stewardship, Fire at Eden's Gate is a reminder of why Oregon fosters Portlandia, world-class wine, native trout fishing, and simple wonder. McCall was our Teddy Roosevelt, and Fire at Eden's Gate sets me ablaze for this state every time I read and reread it.
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Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis
Recommended by: Lydia H., age 14, from Skokie, Illinois
Favorite author of all time: I love so many authors, but I think one of my favorites is Jules Verne.
Favorite type of book: Mystery/action/adventure. I know that covers a lot!
My favorite book that I just read was Wildwood by Colin Meloy. This book was so thrilling and exciting. I would lay awake in bed at night wondering what was going to happen next.
The book is about a young girl whose brother is abducted by crows and she sets off on a marvelous and daunting adventure with her friend. They meet all sorts of strange and unusual things on their way.
I want to read the two other books in the chronicles so badly, but I don't have enough money to buy them, so until then I'll dream of my return to Wildwood.
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Winterdance by Gary Paulsen
Recommended by: Jean F. from Sequim, Washington
Favorite author of all time: Farley Mowat
Favorite type of book: Anything about sea, water, waves, and sailing
I picked up Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod by Gary Paulsen because it had the word "Iditarod" on the cover. I read it about four months ago. I always stop to read about the Iditarod, as it has always fascinated me.
I had expected the book to begin with the start of the race, but, no, Paulsen draws us in by taking us way back to the crazy, funny adventures he had before he even started thinking about running the Iditarod. And his unbelievable experience of actually running the race was so captivating — he clasped his hands around me and did not let go until long after I was done with the book.
I sat around for days waiting to find another book to read. I would pick one up, glance at it, and put it down again. I was in a strange trance like I had never experienced before. I felt as if I were in another time... another world... another space.
I cannot wait to read another book by Gary Paulsen. This was the kind of trance I would like to be in again.