The Great Boat Book-a-thon

You know how you've picked the right crew for your tropical boat vacation? When you look around on the evening of the first day and discover that everyone has silently and unanimously concluded that it's book time. We had paperbacks and hardbacks, mass markets, Kindles, and iPads. Even if you count an e-reader as one book, we had about three times as many books on this trip as we did people. It was magical.

This also means I got more read than I usually would on a group trip—and in another wave of good fortune, everything I read just happened to be spectacular. So I thought I would recommend them to you.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed.

If you are looking for sword-and-sorcery fantasy with an older protagonist that takes place in an Islam-inflected world rather than your standard faux-medieval Europe, you are totally in luck. Characters include a tired old ghul hunter, an ascetic young dervish who needs to learn to relax, an orphaned tribal girl who can turn into a tiger, and some really terrifying monsters. The city of Dhamsawaat is as vibrant and unique as anything you'll find in Dickens or Mieville. I really cannot recommend this highly enough, and I cannot wait for the next book in the trilogy.

The Siren by Tiffany Reisz.

One of our fellow vacationers was reading Fifty Shades and mentioned that it was a bit tamer than she expected. I said she ought to try The Siren, even though I was only a few chapters in at the time. This book, to put it plainly, does not fuck around. The characters are all thoroughly fleshed-out—which comes in handy, since that flesh gets seriously tested as the plot unfolds. This is the kind of clearly consensual, intense lifestyle BDSM that occasionally puts people in the hospital, but is also very intimate and emotional. Kink is a method of sexual expression, rather than a way to cope with mental illness (as E. L. James has depicted it). This book is also very Catholic, which surprised me more than the kinky sex but which was fascinating and unique.

The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America by Sally Denton and Roger Morris.

A great piece of non-fiction, full of speculation and anecdotes and behind-the-legal-scenes stories of how Las Vegas was founded on shady finances and money laundering and violence. Later it deals with presidential politics (so many Kennedys!) and the eventual corporatization of organized crime. It's well-written and complicated and will very probably destroy whatever remaining political innocence you have. I was seeing conspiracy theories everywhere for at least a week after I finished this. Bonus points for being written before the current New Depression, so occasional delightful anachronisms will pop up about the sterling reputation of Lehmann Brothers and other now-defunct institutions.

A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant.

Cecilia Grant's first book featured a chilly widow and a charming rake slowly opening up to one another. This book features a card-counting courtesan—she's amazing—and an ambitious gambler with plenty of baggage from the battlefield. Together they have a plan to fleece a gaming hell, so it's basically a heist story as well as a romance. If there's a better way of getting me excited about a book, I haven't found it yet (I love heist stories!). Ms. Grant's usual poetic style and spot-on metaphors are back in full force, so definitely check this out if you like angsty, intense historicals.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

Everyone who told me to read this book—there were at least seven of you!—was totally correct. It was great, and I loved it. I ended up buying three copies, actually: one is a signed first, but I didn't want to take that on a boat, so I picked up a digital copy as well. But my iPad screen is difficult to read in direct sunlight—which there was plenty of, in the tropics—so when I saw a mass-market paperback for sale in one of our ports of call, I grabbed it as well.

Suffice to say, this is a book totally worth buying three times. Herr Thiessen forever!

And now I am in need of recommendations for what to read next. Suggestions, anyone?

{Disclosure: clicking on the above links may result in benefits to me. And by "benefits to me" I mean "more books for Olivia." It's a good thing.}