Well this crept up on me a bit. It’s World Book Day! A day to celebrate the wonderful world of publishing and the magical and incredible worlds it grants us.
Growing up reading was by far my favourite pastime. In school whenever we had free time I’d be over to the book box and digging out the picture books. My favourite was a story about a strange creature that lived in the woods and was the only one of its kind. So it went on a journey to find a friend, and eventually found his reflection, which came back to the woods and had lots of little baby creatures. When I was going up to primary 2 it took every ounce of willpower I had not to steal that book – to this day I kind of regret that I didn’t, because I don’t remember what it was called, and would give a lot to have a copy now.
When I got older and allowed to go into town without supervision I hit the library, would take out the maximum of 8 books, and then spend my Saturday devouring them. I got through most of the children and young adult section by the time I hit higher education, and discovered the Academy library. First year? I had taken more books out by the end of the year than any other student bar two.
Ironically, as much as I love reading…I don’t enjoy a lot of what people would consider ‘classics’. It took me 6 attempts to get through Lord of the Rings, and still don’t get why people love them. Also read Hamlet in school, and as much as I hate to deride a British icon, Shakespeare is dull as dirt and to this day I don’t know how I managed to score a B on the essay I had to write, because I was falling asleep while reading. Jane Austen is readable, but admit I had more fun reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies than I did the original. As such I’ve learned not to read books people insist are classics and just go for what I like.
With that in mind, I decided to compile my Top 10 favourite books. You’ll notice there’s more than one young adult novel on here – and this is because I still head to that section of the library before the main one. One – I’ve found adult fiction tries to be overly serious or complicated in an attempt to be ‘adult’, while novels intended for younger ages get away with more simplistic imagination that I find far more engrossing, and two – I intend to get published for young adult fiction one day, and it’s good to keep a feel for it.
I admit, I cheat once on the grounds that I consider the first 3 books a complete story arc and should be read together. Some of these have been on my shelf for years, others I’ve fallen out of love with, but still consider them great works of fiction for those who haven’t read them.
So, in attempted order, here they are:
10. Valiant, by Holly Black
Although fairies are not one of my particular favourite mythological creatures, they end up on this list twice. To be fair, Holly Black’s ‘Valiant’ is pretty spectacular. She brings magic into the modern world with a pretty effortless grace. This novel is in the same universe as her earlier book ‘Tithe’, but I find this one superior in just about every way, involving betrayal, fantasy, drug use, murder and a dark gritty world that’s hard to leave.
Val runs away after she catches her boyfriend cheating on her with her mother, and ends up joining a group of squatters…who just so happen to work for a troll who supplies ‘never’ a drug fairies use to reduce their weakness to iron. When a human takes it, then begin to act like fairies, even obtaining magic for a brief time – but like many drugs, is addictive.
Although the plot is great, it’s the romance between Val and Ravus the troll that I love. When you have all of the fae species to play with, making the male lead a troll and still making the story work takes talent. There’s a beauty and the beast quality to it, but removes a lot of the problems I have with the beauty and the beast plot.
9. Victoria and the Rogue, by Meg Cabot
Although I avoided her Princess Diaries series like the plague, I do think this period romance gives me everything I want from that genre. It’s not an overly complicated story, but the characters are both flawed and likable – with you both loving and hating the main character at the same time.
Victoria has grown up in India, but has been shipped back to England now she’s old enough to find a husband. And wouldn’t you know it; she manages to bag a fiancé before she’s even off the boat. But Captain Jacob Carstairs appears to think she’s making a mistake with her chosen beau, and continues to interfere. Is he merely meddling? Or is there a valid reason for his distrust?
It’s meant for young teens and its hardly breaking ground – but I enjoyed it far more than I did Austen, and its fun to read when all you want is a cheesy romance without the Mills and Boon.
8. The Inferior, by Peadar Ó Guilín
After compiling this list, I’ve realised the sequel to this should have been published so I’ll have to go a hunting. It’s been several years since I’ve read this novel, but I still remember how much it captured me.
It’s set in a post apocalyptic world, where there is no vegetation, but many species of sentient monsters and one tribe of humans. Due to the lack of food, the world relies on cannibalistic ‘trade flesh’ – the tribes offer up members of their tribe who cannot hunt or fend for themselves as meat to other tribes in exchange for goods. The main character is Stopmouth, a young boy who is named due to his stuttering speech, and is not particularly well liked in the tribe for this, not helped by the fact that his brother Wallbreaker is superior to him in many ways. However, their way of life is changed forever when a strange girl falls from the sky…
Frankly, I just explained a good third of the novel. The author takes time to set up this dark world – there’s no simple explanations or blunt statements. The way the world works is revealed to the reader slowly and in bites, so by the time the story really gets going you have a deep understanding of the world that helps you follow the plot to come. I love post apocalyptic stories, but I’ve never found once that managed to set up such a believable world the way this one did. My one complaint is that the story does become slightly cliché close to the end – you can see certain reveals coming from a mile away, and it’s a little disappointing such an original world has such obvious plot twists. Still, will be looking for the sequel to see what they do with it.
6. Gideon, by Russell Andrews
The only reason this book isn’t higher on the list is because I have several issues with plot holes that multiple re-reads only enhance. Despite this though, Gideon is a gripping crime/detective mystery that keeps you guessing right up until the final act.
Carl Granville is a struggling author – who is giving the offer of a lifetime to have his book published…so long as he takes a diary and ghost writes it into fiction – a book that will be known as ‘Gideon’. This diary however is so top secret, he can tell no one about it and what it contains could destroy a man should anyone discover his identity. However, not long after taking the job, his agent is murdered – with him as the main suspect, and both the diary and his manuscript are missing. Realising he’s been set up, Carl goes on a hunt to find out the identity of ‘Gideon’, and soon realises he’s just a pawn in a much bigger game.
This is a book that I not only enjoyed the first time, but appreciated on the second and third readings for all the things I picked up that I’d missed. The way the story is written – it should be obvious who Gideon is, and in some ways you certainly aren’t surprised at the identity…but the actual mastermind is someone else entirely, and pulls off the reveal with gusto. My one vice is that the mastermind’s actual plan seems to have hinged on someone committing suicide…but makes comments that suggest that was never the plan afterwards. I’ve re-read this book a few times and I just can’t wrap my head around this blatant issue…but the rest of it is solid and well put together.
5. Anita Blake, by Laurel K Hamilton
Specifically Guilty Pleasures, Laughing Corpse and Circus of the Damned – the first 3 books. After that feel free to ignore the series. By book 5 the series takes a far more sexual turn and I fell out of love with the series, however the first 3 encompass my favourite supernatural series in novelisation.
It’s set in an alternate universe where supernatural creatures not only exist, but people are well aware of that fact. And not long before the series starts, America just legalised vampirism – making it illegal to just kill them. Which is where Anita Blake comes in – she works with the police force, and when a vampire is found guilty of a crime, she executes it. Course, her actual job is raising the dead – to help settle insurance disputes and give the living a chance to say goodbye, among other reasons. In the first book, she is hunting down a vampire serial killer, in the second a rogue animator (zombie raiser), and in the third she becomes intertwined in a battle between Master vampires for control of the city. They might not sound connected, but during these 3 stories an overlying plot involving her and two possible suitors is sometimes more interesting than the crimes she’s investigating. The love triangle is not exactly solved by the third book, but it concludes in a pretty great climax – I recommend all 3 instead of just ‘Circus of the Damned’ though, this isn’t a series that is particularly kind to jumping in 2 books in, and ‘Guilty Pleasures’ is a good start, rather than a good book in my opinion.
4. Artemis Fowl – Opal Deception, by Eoin Colfer
When everyone else was going gaga for Harry Potter and Alex Rider, I was very much a fan of the Irish super villain and the LEPRecon fairies. I was tempted to pop the first 3 books of the trilogy in here too, but when it comes down to it, as much as I enjoy the first 3 books, the number one book in the series goes to the fourth one. The fifth manages to be enjoyable too…although after that point the series begins to fall into ‘should-have-quit-while-you-were-ahead-Colfer’.
After her defeat in the second book, Opal Koboi has been in a coma for over a year and out of action. However, this is just a facade – she’s very much in action and ready to begin her plan of revenge against the fairies and Artemis Fowl. Of course, after the third book, Artemis has had his memory wiped, and has no idea the danger he’s in.
Definitely need to read the books beforehand rather than just jumping in. You don’t necessarily need to in order to follow the plot, but if you don’t know who Opal Koboi or Julius Root are before you start, the impact of the story will fall flat.
No longer the diehard fan I once was, but the number of times I re-read this book keeps it high on the list. Why this is the only popular series from that time of my life that didn’t get a movie is beyond me.
4. Black Lung Captain, by Chris Wooding
I could probably write an entire posting on my top 10 Chris Wooding novels (and I just might). He is, by a mile, my favourite author. And as such, it was very hard to keep his contribution to this list down to just one. I’ve had to discard Poison, Storm Thief and The Fade (and boy was that one hard…) and just pick the one I’m happiest to re-read at this point in my life. That award goes to the second novel in the ‘Tales of the Ketty Jay’ series.
The series itself is about a group of Sky Pirates, embracing the wonderfully popular Steampunk genre. After the first novel, Darian Frey is desperate to find a fortune so he and his crew can retire, or at the very least stop having to do stupid simple robberies that still manage to go wrong. He gets an opportunity when Captain Grist comes to him with a job offer – help him retrieve an artefact from a remote island fraught with danger. It’s stupid and suicidal – but that’s never stopped Frey before. Of course, in true Chris Wooding fashion, that’s just the start of the Ketty Jay crew’s problems.
But what I love about this novel is that the characters that were set up in the first book ‘Retribution Falls’ are given character development to the nth degree. Nearly every single one of them gets the spotlight in a way that the first book just didn’t seem to have time for. The first book was (in a conveniently familiar way for this list) a good setup. ‘Black Lung Captain’ took it and just went wild. The showdown involving the two sky ships and one plane had me holding my breath – proof you don’t need a movie and special effects to capture someone’s complete attention.
3. Red Dwarf Omnibus, by Grant Naylor
While at university, there were two books that sat on my shelf every year. When others were dumped to charity shops or given away, these two sat proudly, knowing that when I was feeling down or needed an escape, they’d be on hand. One of these books was the Red Dwarf Omnibus – technically 2 books (‘Red Dwarf’ and ‘Better than Life’), but as they’re sold together, they are basically part 1 and 2 of the same story. My copy has been read so many times I ‘m genuinely surprised it’s still in one piece.
Based on the original TV show, Red Dwarf is set in the far-but-not-too-far future, and stars David Lister, a man who got so drunk on his birthday, he woke up on another planet and no way to get home. In a moment of brilliance, he signs up to work as a technician-stroke-janitor on a mining ship heading for Earth. However, due to a series of unfortunate events, he ends up 3 million years in the future, facing a pretty dark certainty he’s the only human being left alive, with only a senile computer, a dead man’s hologram, a creature evolved from his pet cat and a malfunctioning android for company…and he’s down to his last two cigarettes.
I loved the original series, but I genuinely love the books more. They take the plot of the TV show (along with many plots and many, many lines) and basically flesh it out into a really, really good story. It’s essentially a parody or satire of so many sci fi novels, but on top of that, the characters are brilliant, and the humour the best Britain can offer. I love ‘Red Dwarf’ and ‘Better than Life’ is a fantastic sequel – it’s hard not to love the ending.
2. Among Thieves, by Douglas Hulick
This really wanted to take the top slot, but just couldn’t bring myself to put it there. The newest book on the list as I only discovered it last year, but by far my favourite fantasy book – and eagerly awaiting the sequel. This one gave me faith that I can step out of my young adult/teen fiction fantasy bubble and start reading more adult fantasy.
Drothe is a not what the world would call a good man. He works for a crime lord – finding and taking care of trouble that crops up in his lords organisation. In his spare time, he also smuggles relics for the extra cash.
However, these two things collide when it becomes apparent everyone in the city is looking for a certain relic – a book with knowledge that could change the world forever – that many will kill to obtain. And when it falls into Drothe’s hands, he finds himself having to decide what the future of his city will hold, whether he likes it or not.
I want to believe that in a few decades, this book will be considered a classic. It get’s everything right. The characters, the world, the religion, the plot – so many times you think you know where it’s going only for the characters to jump in the opposite direction. The choices made are believable, and everyone is flawed. Halfway through I had to sit the book down (unheard of for me) and compose myself because I’d gotten overly emotional at the choices that were having to be made. If no other book on this list has caught your attention, read this one.
However, as much as I enjoy it, when people ask me what’s my favourite book, my thoughts immediately turn to this:
1. The Hitman Diaries, by Danny King
This was the other book that I kept on my shelf at university. Whenever I was sad or depressed I’d grab this book by its pink cover and console myself that as bad as I might feel right now, at least my life wasn’t as bad as this guys.
Ian Bridges is a hitman in London by trade, and a closet romantic at heart. For Ian longs for more than just a career – specifically, he’s searching for that special lady to spend his life with. Unfortunately, most of the women you meet in his line of work end up dead – by his own hand no less. But that’s not going to stop him – he’s going to find the girl of his dreams, even if he has to kill every woman in Britain.
Complete and utter satire, and god I love every. Single. Line. The second chapter had me in stitches the whole way through:
“I was standing a few yards away from a busy restaurant with three dead bodies at my feet and the murder weapon in my hand. Not only that, earlier on in the evening I’d been seen dinging with one of the victims.
Whoever the lawyer was that was going to get me off this little lot was certainly going to earn his legal aid.
In the second chapter, Ian ends up killing 6 people, (almost) all of them by accident and then takes steps to hide the body. To the reader, it’s pretty obvious he’s a full on psychopath, but it’s actually hard to hate a guy that would clearly do anything to be the perfect romantic partner. Although its a little scary just how much research Mr King has done into the art of killing people for money. The characters and plot are brilliant – the concept is insane and utterly wrong – but it’s one of the few books that can still make me laugh out loud and have me set it down feeling better than I did before I picked it up. Not for the easily offended, and it can rile some feminist feathers if you take it too seriously, but it will probably still be on my bookshelf when I’m old and grey.