Here are a few of my favorite books

Clay Kallam
Photo by Laura Kapfer on Unsplash

I have always read books – probably too many books – and at one point I reviewed science fiction and fantasy for what is now the East Bay Times and San Jose Mercury News.

And even though most of my 800 or so reviews on Goodreads fall into that category, there are plenty of others there as well. Note also that I really hate giving five star reviews – I wish there was a 10-point scale so reviewers could differentiate between the really good and great – so a book has to be pretty special to get all five stars.

So in case you’re looking for some summer reading, light or heavy, here are a few of my five-star favorites. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did …

Historical Fiction

“The Ill-Made Knight”: Christopher Cameron is one of my favorite authors – he also writes as Miles Cameron – and “The Ill-Made Knight” is everything historical fiction should be. William Gold has dreams of chivalry and the glories of knighthood, but is caught in the grim and sometimes sordid reality of medieval France. Cameron strikes the perfect balance between harsh reality and the joys of a different time as Gold begins his climb from poverty, which continues through several equally well-done sequels.


“Uprooted”: Naomi Novik is likely best-known for her eight-book series about Will Laurence, dragons and the Napoleonic Wars, which is worth reading, but I just loved “Uprooted,” a classic fantasy that draws from familiar fairy tales. Novik keeps the pages turning with unexpected twists, and unusual in today’s publishing world, “Uprooted” is a complete standalone novel that requires no more investment than this book. Absolutely perfect summer reading.

Historical Fiction and Fantasy

“Under Heaven”: Guy Gavriel Kay might just be my favorite author, and though he began his career with the wonderful Fionavar Tapestry, a classic fantasy, with “Under Heaven,” he begins a series set in an 8th century China that adds a bit of magic to a book that describes, in loving detail, life in the Tang Dynasty. Kay is a superb writer, and one of his many carefully constructed phrases shows why: “The street was as straight as a dream of virtue.” Just perfect …


“1491: New Revelations of the America before Columbus”: This book lives up to its title, as it is indeed a revelation, making it all too clear that the civilizations that rose and fell in the Americas prior to the arrival of European germs were every bit as complex and accomplished as the ones we’re familiar with. And the European “conquest”? Imagine how easy it would be to take over a territory if 80% or more the population had suddenly died, crushing the existing culture and depopulating large swathes of territory. A brilliant, essential book …


“The Long Season”: This journal of life in the major leagues in 1959 is fascinating not only for its look at baseball before free agency and big money, but also how the grind of the business of professional sports then and now is unrelenting. Jim Brosnan was on the cusp of success in 1959, but was still trying to establish himself, and the ups and downs of, well, a long season are not that much different than for a young pitcher today. And of course, even though the game is much the same, the wildly different life of a big leaguer in 1959 (offseason jobs) – and life in general – is brilliantly illuminated by Brosnan’s insight and skill.


“Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy”: Given the ongoing tragedies that plague us, from wars to mass shootings, Susan Neiman’s examination of the sources and possible solutions to the evil in our societies is sadly all too relevant. Not exactly a beach read, but a rewarding, powerful work.

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Clay Kallam is a lifelong East Bay resident who spent several decades in local journalism -- and still writes for Diablo Magazine (among others). Over the years, he has covered just about every aspect of life in the Bay Area, from rock-and-roll to the arts to political coverage to food to sports. On the food front, he does not claim to be a critic, but rather someone who enjoys a good meal, a well-made drink and a nice red wine. As for sports, he has written for national publications (including Sports Illustrated and Slam) and covers girls' basketball across the nation for MaxPreps. He is a high school coach and a serious fan of the local teams -- and savored every minute of the Giants' and Warriors' championships. He graduated from Acalanes, UC Santa Barbara (ancient history) and Cal (philosophy). He lives in Walnut Creek with his wife Maggi, who takes many of the food photos. He appreciates his readers and is always happy to talk about anything he's written. His food experiences can be found at #dishdining on Instagram, and emails can be sent to

Walnut Creek, CA

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