9 books to buy

9 books to buy

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re full-on into shopping mode in time for the festive season. One of the best presents, in my opinion, that you can give is a book.

I suppose I would say that as a writer, but I’m not flogging my own novel in today’s blog post. Instead, I want to share nine novels that have stayed with me long after I turned their final page.

For children and teens

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book begins in a very dark way – murder. It introduces us immediately to the assassin, the man Jack and the peril that our protagonist, Bod is in.

Gaiman’s portrayal of Bod as a child, at different ages, is completely believable. In fact, the whole book, although strange on the surface (a child living in a graveyard among ghosts and ghouls) uses the familiarity of family, childhood, and growing up to bind the story together.

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

I was introduced to the ‘Skulduggery Pleasant’ books when my son found the first book in the series at our local library. Back then, I would still read to him on a night-time. I think I probably enjoyed the book as much as my son did.

Skulduggery Pleasant is the dead wizard detective pictured on the cover who, along with 12 year old Stephanie, investigate her late uncle’s death.

Magic, danger and, well, more danger and magic. What more could you ask for?

Running with the Demon by Terry Brooks

This is the first in the Word & Void trilogy and tells the story of a 14 year old girl called Nest who has strange powers, magical animal friends, and a quest to protect the children in her neighbourhood from demons and the like.

Running alongside Nest’s story is that of a Knight of the Word, John Ross, come to Nest’s town to protect her and the world from the encroaching Void.

For fantasy lovers

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I love novels where an adult remembers what befell them as a child, and that is exactly what happens in this fantasy novel.

‘Ocean’ has Gaiman’s quiet, beckoning tone of storytelling, drawing you in until you have to know what will happen to the characters.

It’s a story of regret, bitter-sweet reminiscence, and the courage of a child who is wonderfully but terrifyingly out of his depths in a discovered world of magic.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This is a novel of magic, illusion (magical, mechanical and emotional), gameplay and love, set at the turn of the twentieth century in Europe and the USA which leaves you with more questions about the circus than you started with.

The circus arrives without warning.
   No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and  billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The ‘Word Wizard’ Terry Pratchett is no longer with us but his writing was so brilliant and prolific that I’m sure he’ll continue to have and attract an audience for decades more, if not forever.

‘The Colour of Magic’ tells the adventures of unlikely hero and terrible wizard, Rincewind.

I love the world that Pratchett created in his Discworld novels. I mean, who wouldn’t want luggage with legs and a mind of it’s own?

For those who love the classics

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I came across this book through my studies and it has stayed with me as an example of great writing ever since. Mary Shelley became an inspiration to me too, not only as a writer, but as a creative pioneer, and an incredibly strong woman.

Forget the Boris Karloff Frankenstein’s monster or Herman in the Munsters, this classic novel is a story of arrogance, struggle, abandonment, and heart-break.

I’m on the monster’s side, by the way.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

‘The Moonstone’ is told through the eyes of members of the family affected by the Moonstone’s seeming curse, their elderly butler Gabriel Betteredge, the family solicitor and the retired policeman Sergeant Cuff.

Considered to be the first detective novel, ‘The Moonstone’ describes the days and events before, during and after the theft of the fated diamond.

This novel is, if you’ll excuse the pun, a gem of a read whether you enjoy crime fiction or Victorian novels or both.

Curtain by Agatha Christie

My final book is an old battered copy of the last ever Hercule Poirot novel. This book belonged to my parents but I didn’t read it until I was an adult. This is by far my favourite Agatha Christie novel, if the only one that ever moved me to tears.

Set in the same country house as the first Poirot novel, ‘Curtain’ sees Hercule old and ailing as his loyal and long-time friend Arthur Hastings does his best to help his friend discover ‘whodunnit’ before Poirot takes his last breath.

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So there you have it, my nine recommended books to buy for your friends or family, or just for yourself, this Christmas.

Happy shopping!

The books that made me the writer I am today

For many writers, probably all, the starting point to becoming a writer is the act of reading.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was an only child brought up in a house of books. There were no siblings to amuse, distract or terrorise me. My parents were attentive but busy. I was therefore encouraged to become comfortable with my own company.

I was especially encouraged to read because, let’s be realistic, a child reading is a lot less disruptive than a child lining up her toys on the stairs to watch an imaginary theatre production (yes, I did that).

I read hungrily and constantly, devouring whatever books were in the house and the local library, and begging my parents to buy more. I have probably read and forgotten more books than I can remember. To house all those books, assuming I had never let any of them go, would require a dedicated library (still working on that dream).

There are a handful of books, though, that inspired my imagination and started me writing. Thankfully, I still have the original or a replaced copy of each title.

Fairytales

One of my first books, long before I was given Ladybird books or picture books, was a massive, hardback collection of fairytales.

What I loved about the fairytales – be they Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, or The Little Mermaid – was that along with the magical adventures, kingdoms and beasties, there was always an element of danger.

And danger didn’t necessarily come in an obviously wicked package. Sometimes, there were gingerbread houses and seemingly kind saviours who showed you how to weave gold.

The phrases ‘once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after’ were code for ‘Here there be monsters’.

The plays of Shakespeare

My parents each brought a tome of Shakespeare’s plays to their marital home. As a child, I would leaf through both books, choosing a role to play and casting the other parts from my favourite filmstars or childhood friends.

I read the plays in the same way as I would read a story. I suppose it’s no surprise that, as an adult, I earned a living as playwright for a number of years.

I learned three things from Mr Shakespeare:

  • Pacing – You can’t have periods of low energy on-stage or your audience will switch off. It’s just the same with a novel.
  • Purpose – every piece of dialogue or stage direction had to be there for a reason.
  • Character consistency – characters may develop through the journey of a story but they will always act within the rules of their personality.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

When I was in hospital as a child, my primary school bought this book for me. I had never read anything by Roald Dahl and my first reaction was to be offended. A school friend of mine was in the same hospital ward briefly. The school bought The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for her. I wanted that.

I couldn’t have been more wrong though. Charlie’s adventure in the chocolate factory was a modern day fairytale. There might not have been magic spells but there were lessons to be learned, danger to be faced, and tests to pass.

I was instantly hooked by Dahl’s lyrical writing and dark imagination. None of it was predictable. All of it was exciting.

Thankfully, one of my father’s colleagues bought me the follow-up novel Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator when I eventually went home, and every Christmas or birthday wish list after that included a new book by Roald Dahl.

Frankenstein

Frankenstein is one of those novels that everyone has heard of but I didn’t actually read it until I was an adult.

In 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (who would become Mary Shelley), Percy Bysshe Shelley, their son, and Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont spent the summer near Geneva in Switzerland, holidaying with the poet Lord Byron and his doctor John William Polidori. Bad weather kept them indoors and conversation turned to Erasmus Darin’s experiments to re-animate dead matter, and ghost stories. At the suggestion of Lord Byron, each of them wrote their own supernatural tale. Mary’s short story came to be the novel we now know.

There are many things that I love about the novel. The structure of the book – a story within a story within a story – always struck me, and still does, as a wonderful way to get at, and point to, the heart of the tale. It’s even inspired me to write a stand-alone fantasy novel using the same structure after the Haven series has been finished.

The novel also questions the idea of ‘monster’. Does a monster have to look monstrous? Is a monster created by the monstrous deeds they commit? Can a monster ever change? The novel Frankenstein stares darkness in the face and says, ‘what are you?’.

The True Game

This collection of three novels by Sheri S Tepper, at first glance, is a traditional fantasy novel. There’s a chart of lineage, maps showing the lands of the novel, warriors, sorcerers and healers.

The further you delve into The True Game, however, the more you come to realise that this is far from the Tolkien-esque kind of adventure it might seem.

The story is actually set in the future, there really is a game being played, and gradually technology makes itself known and then prevalent.

This mixture of magic and technology, and the hiding of this duality behind a curtain of genre expectation, made me wonder how I could play those two factors off against each other in my own writing.

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Those are my five inspirational reads. What books have inspired you?