book reviews Creative writing

Amazon Author Central asked for five book tips…here’s 15

Amazon has updated Author Central and asked me to recommend five books for five questions. Here’s a few more for your TBR.

If you’ve never heard of Amazon Author Central, it’s like a micro-site for every author. You can host a bio, photos, and now suggest books you like.

For the update, Amazon asks you to choose books based on five questions, but one book is never enough. I’ve added a couple more to each category and built on the 120 characters they gave me to explain them.

A collage of book covers for my Amazon Author Picks roundup

What’s a similar book [to Blood River] that readers would like?

The cover of Devolution by Max Brooks

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks. I said: “The found diary of a small group cut off by natural disaster and faced with a ruthless, violent primal competitor.”

Devolution was suggested by a friend who read Blood River, and it’s got a few similarities to my first Nightmare Vacations novel. Brooks is best known for World War Z, which also uses an epistolary format to tell a story that’s too big for one narrator. Here it’s used to solve the challenge of a narrator whose fate must remain a mystery as the terrifying antagonists close in. He adds a framing narrator and fictional experts for external context which drives tension in the central story. Devolution hits a gripping pace as the primal monsters pick off survivors, although I didn’t like the central characters very much.

Author Central alt picks

House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski. As much an art piece as a novel, it’s still a terrifying story and an awesome piece of narrative construction. Read this in a physical format where you can relish the footnotes and appendix items.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix. Grady Hendrix writes fun horror stories with entertaining and original concepts that I wish I’d thought of. Horrorstör is best enjoyed in a physical format that embraces its play on the IKEA catalogue.

What’s a book you couldn’t put down?

The cover of A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan, 1) by Arkady Martine. I said: “The Teixcalaan duology is a masterclass of intimate love story set against an epically-crafted space opera drama.”

This came to me through our reading group’s award-winners season. I read the sequel, A Desolation Called Peace, as soon as there was a gap in my reading list. I’m suspicious of literary awards, but novels are deserving of their plaudits.

Technically, AMCE is a planetary romance in which an ill-prepared ambassador becomes embroiled in the politics of a civilization that considers her barely human, and falls in love with her handler. ADCP reunites the protagonists in a full-scale space opera that expands and challenges the set-up of the first instalment. Both novels do what SF does best: they pose big questions and tell gripping personal stories against an epic scale that shows off the author’s craft and imagination.

Author Central alt picks

Wool by Hugh Howey. An engrossing post-apocalyptic thriller with sequels which cleverly reinvent the premise each time. The Apple TV series absolutely nailed the first book of the Silo trilogy, which is an unexpected delight.

The Fifth Season by N K Jemisin. I liked The Fifth Season but I found its sequels in the Broken Earth trilogy unputdownable. This is how literary SF should be: unashamedly imaginative storytelling that crosses genre boundaries, with challenging narrative styles, deep and consistent worldbuilding, and a human story at its heart.

What’s a book that left an impression on you?

The original Pan Macmillan cover of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. I said: “Like the IgNobel Prizes, HH2G made me laugh, then it made me think, and it continues to do so 40 years later.”

I’ve written at length about HH2G, and it’s best enjoyed with its first two sequels, Restaurant At The End Of The Universe and Life, The Universe & Everything, which complete the immediate story of Arthur Dent and friends. Adams shows a more mature perspective in Sol Long And Thanks For All The Fish and Mostly Harmless, as he did in his Dirk Gently novels. The entire HH2G sequence is shorter, more fun and just as clever as any number of literary doorstops.

It’s strange that the story of a middle-aged man and his equally non-youthful friends is listed by Amazon as a best seller in “Teen & Young Adult Humorous Fiction eBooks”, but that’s algorithms for you. What a depressingly stupid robot, as Marvin would say.

Author Central alt picks

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick. The inspiration for Blade Runner portrays a richer world than Ridley Scott’s iconic neon-and-titties noirpunk, but the the fundamental questions of humanity and our illusions of self-worth remain.

Milk and Cheese: Dairy Products Gone Bad by Evan Dorkin. If you think Itchy & Scratchy are the best part of The Simpsons, Milk and Cheese will appeal to you. Any similarity to my cheeky little pals, Bongo and Sandy, is entirely incidental.

What’s a book that opened your eyes to a new perspective?

The cover of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead. I said: “A steampunk alt-history that sheds new light on the politics of the darkest chapter in American history.”

Whitehead presents an unflinching picture of American slavery that needs no reimagining, but his vision of a real underground railroad enables a slide into alt-history. Escaped slave Cora adventures into a parallel world that asks difficult questions about attitudes to race and gender equality, throughout civil rights movements and progressive politics, from the 1800s to the present day.

Author Central alt picks

The Sellout by Paul Beatty. This is a dark but undeniably funny satire on racial politics that refuses to compromise. It’s also a charming tale with a powerful real-life back story.

Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall. An accessible non-fiction book that creates a new context for many of the incomprehensible events occurring in the modern world.

What’s a book that is important to you?

The cover of Look To Windward by Iain M Banks

Look To Windward by Iain M. Banks. I said: “My favourite Culture novel, combining grand space opera with a personal melancholy. Banks at his best.”

All of the Culture novels are important to me, for the sheer breathtaking fun of his writing, for the shocking twists, for the characters and societies which populate his universe. Look To Windward is special because of the personal melancholy which unites its protagonists, even though one of them is an AI of staggering power and the other is a sentient feline driven by a widow’s grief.

Author Central alt picks

Happiness by Aminatta Forna. I was still at odds with my grief when this popped up on my MA reading list, and Happiness helped me to accept it. As a writer, I love Forna’s prose and her use of structure to reveal both the story and its meaning.

Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds. Reynolds is a master of hard SF who deserves wider recognition. I still remember the awe I felt when the nested timelines that he braids together in Chasm City unlocked a sucker punch finale.

Which books would you suggest for Amazon’s Author Central questions? Let me know in the comments below.

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