Happy birthday, Jess! ~ Review roundup in honour of my sister

My sister Jessica is celebrating her birthday today. She’s introduced me to some of my favourite books and writers ever, including:

  • The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  • The Rebus series by Ian Rankin
  • The Spenser series by Robert B. Parker
  • The Guido Brunetti series by Donna Leon

… and lots, lots more. So, I figured, what better way to celebrate her birthday on my blog than by writing about some books and genres she loves?

The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins

I don’t have to tell you how awesome this series is, do I? It’s one of the most brilliant YA series I’ve read, possibly second in my mind only to Harry Potter. It took me months to convince Jess to read it, and she’s now an even bigger fan than I am. It just has everything: an inspiring heroine, self-sacrifice, politics, reality TV, family, kick ass action scenes, and yes, a love story.

If you’re one of a handful who hasn’t read the book yet, check out the website here to find out more about it. Better yet, read the books already. Trust me on this one.

Even better, there’s a movie out in 2012.

Love The Hunger Games and looking for your next read? May I suggest Moira Young’s Blood Red Road or Veronica Roth’s Divergent.

And, if you’re a nerd like me, check out The Girl Who Was on Fire, full of essays about the books.

View my review of The Girl Who Was on Fire 

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

One of Jess’ favourite books ever, and I’m sure a lot of you already agree about how awesome this book is.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird still feels as relevant today as it did when it was first published. Despite all the tense race relations Lee depicts in her story, Lee also offers us some of the most inspiring characters in literature. How often do we watch the news and wish we had lawyers or politicians with as much integrity and passion for justice as Atticus Finch? How much do we wish we had the same staunch beliefs in right and wrong that Scout has? In Lee’s tale of a white lawyer defending a black man in a racist town, we simply fall in love with her characters, and cheer them on, whole-heartedly, in their battle, which is a battle for justice, but more importantly, a battle against hate.

The Sigma Force series, by James Rollins

Actually, any book by James Rollins is guaranteed to have two things: insane thrills and science that seems too weird to be true, but is actually based on extensive research. The Sigma Force series, which Jess introduced me to and we both love, has the added bonus of starring a team of kick-ass nerds. Seriously, imagine Sheldon Cooper with a black belt in karate and Iron Man type gadgets.

Reading Rollins is always like watching a good movie: you’re riveted by the action, and freaked out by the knowledge that there’s a kernel of truth in the story. His latest, Devil Colony, isn’t my favourite of his books, but it’s still pretty damn good.

View my review of Devil Colony

For Rollins fans: he’s a very active tweeter, and chats often with fans.

Follow James Rollins on Twitter

Spycatcher by Matthew Dunn

Jess is a huge fan of spy novels, especially those that feel “close to the ground.” John Le Carre, Alan Furst and Len Deighton, rather than Ian Fleming. Matthew Dunn’s Spycatcher caught my eye as something she’d enjoy. To my delight, I absolutely fell in love with this book myself, and I’m not even much of a spy fiction fan.

Dunn is a former MI6 agent, and like Le Carre, his field experience is almost palpable in his writing. (Unlike Le Carre, Dunn doesn’t use a pseudonym, which I find interesting.) Spycatcher follows Will Cochrane as he tries to stop an Iranian terrorist. It’s a thrilling story, and while Cochrane and his team appear almost superhuman at times in their strategies, Spycatcher works so well because we see Cochrane’s vulnerability, his humanity. We feel his pain at not having seen his sister in eight years, and we long as much as he does for him to be able to settle down with the woman he loves. Incredible book, and I can only hope Dunn writes even more.

View my review of Spycatcher

Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay

Jess loves books about Russia, especially books written bySolzhenitsyn, Dostoevsky and Chekhov. I haven’t blogged about any of their books (I’ve also never read Solzhenitsyn, though Jess assures me he’s really good), so here’s the next best thing: Kalotay’s Russian Winter is about Nina Revskaya, a former ballet dancer now living in Boston and auctioning off her jewelry. A mysterious link between her and a man who appears to own a necklace that belongs to one of her sets leads Nina to remember her past in Russia under Stalin. The present-day scenes were okay, but I just love the scenes in Russia. The descriptions of ballet are just beautiful, and Kalotay makes us feel both the fear of Stalin and the characters’ desire to escape this fear through art.

View my review of Russian Winter

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