Tag Archives: Reading

Top 10 Authors – Markus Zusak

I think the closest I’ve come to declaring a favourite book is Markus Zusak’s ‘The Book Thief’. This was another book I came to thanks to the top 100 books I’m trying to read and it grabbed me from the first page through to the last. I loved that it was narrated by death and I loved it was presented through the eyes of a young girl despite the horrors it was showing us.

I have read some of Zusak’s other books (The Messenger and The Underdog) and the thing that struck me was the author’s amazing grasp of character. They feel so real, and I don’t know if it was just me, but they feel like they tap into a facet of yourself that resonates so personally that it is as if the author knows you. That is a great skill. So when that character development was married to such an amazing story, then you can see why I loved The Book Thief so much.

Markus Zusak is touted mainly as a young adult author, in fact The Book Thief was marketed as YA in the US, but like so many other young adult books, his stories can be enjoyed by everyone. He captures the pain of the teenage years so well that it was almost uncomfortable venturing back there. They brought back memories.

Just writing this review makes me want to go back and read his work again, I hope that sells it for you. It also makes me want to be a better writer. You can’t ask for more than that.

Top 10 Authors – Robin Hobb

Robin Hobb was one of the guest authors at the first ever Spec Fiction convention I went to. I had never heard of her so I borrowed a book off a friend. It was fantasy, I had read a bit of fantasy but it hadn’t grabbed me. The book I borrowed didn’t grab me, it consumed me. One of the great joys of coming to a fantasy writer late is that you get to binge on full series, you don’t need to wait a year or three between books. And binge is exactly what I did.

The first series I read was the Farseer Trilogy, followed by the Live Ship Traders. They were both superb. Her world-building is colourful and logical, the characters are flawed but likable, and there is enough politics going on to keep it interesting, but not enough to get you confused. I loved disappearing into this world of no computers, no monthly pay packets and no crowded city commutes.

The only reason I didn’t finish (yet) the Tawny Man series is because a character I loved died, and each time I picked up the next book in the series I was reminded of that and started crying again. Yes, I cry sometimes just thinking about this character dying. I’ve never had a book do that to me so long after reading it before. I think I’m nearly ready to get over it, it’s been more than ten years now.

If you are looking for a true escape from the real world, then these are the books for you. They do have a little magic in them, but quite frankly if a fantasy book doesn’t have magic then it might as well be historical fiction as far as I’m concerned. Provided there are rules around the use of the magic, which Robin Hobb does apply, then I’m happy.

Top 10 Authors – Jasper Fforde

I discovered Jasper Fforde through my ongoing attempt to read through the top 100 books of 2007 (so far I’ve read 68 of them). The Eyre Affair has been a constant on the top 100 until recent years, but I’m sure it will be back because it is a great book. A really great book.

I was so in love with The Eyre Affair that I wanted to immediately buy Jasper’s entire back catalogue, so convinced was I that I would love them all. Fortunately I was poor, so instead I kept putting them on hold at the library and slowly made my way through every Fforde book I could get my hands on…

Until I got to The Well of Lost Plots. I did not enjoy this book. In fact it was so disappointing it made me afraid to pick up another Jasper Fforde novel. Maybe I just wasn’t clever enough to get it, I’m sure the idea of writing a book without a plot was a challenge that some people really did like. I did not. I like story and this book had no story. None. It was plot-less.

There is no doubting that Jasper Fforde is a very talented, intelligent writer. He did stuff in his books that left me in awe and made me wish I could write like him. As weird as this sounds he jokes about grammar and it is really funny. Better still, you have to know the grammar rule to realise it is a joke. Maybe that’s why I didn’t enjoy the Lost Plots?

Whatever may have become of my relationship with Jasper, I loved the nursery crime series, I loved the Dragonslayer series and The Eyre Affair will always rank in my favourite books of all time. And if you can, do what I did, read it both before and after you have read Jane Eyre, you’ll get a lot more out of it. Just don’t buy the entire back catalogue once you fall in love with it, limit yourself to one book at a time. Unless you are rich, then buy them all, authors need to make money too!

Top 10 Authors – Kristin Cashore

I’ve picked Kristin Cashore mainly for one book; Graceling. I don’t know what it was about this book that so captured me, but capture me it did. I’ve since re-read it several times and loved it every time. There are not a lot of books I can enjoy as much the second time I read them, but this one I did (and the third, and the fourth).

Like when I read Eoin Colfer’s books, I read Graceling and think I would like to write something like it one day. The other thing I’ve noticed with Graceling is that when I read it I can’t look at the structure or the word-smithing because I get too caught up in the story and characters. That’s the sign of a story-telling and I’m all about story.

It is probably no coincidence I have an affinity for YA writers given I’m mainly a YA writer when it comes to my novels, and Graceling embraces everything I love about writing YA. It covers mature concepts, relationships, even politics, without having to get graphic. Too many fantasy books written for adults have gore and violence to the extreme, sometimes getting lost in those things. But I’ll get off my soapbox now.

I know this book won’t appeal as widely as perhaps some others I’ve picked for this top ten, but I come back to it so often, with such affection, it would be a crime to leave it off the list.

Top 10 Authors – Lois Duncan

Until the age of 14 I wanted to make movies when I grew up. At 14 I read my first Lois Duncan novel and after that I wanted to be a writer. It seems crazy to say this now, but I didn’t realise that there were people writing books out there that were as good as, or even better than movies.

My school library was pretty limited, and I didn’t have many people making recommendations besides my English teacher, so the books I had read were pretty boring or ‘safe’. I didn’t really see much point to reading.

Lois Duncan’s books made me sneak a torch to bed so I could read at night, I couldn’t wait to get back to them when I wasn’t reading. She explored ESP, telekinesis, astral travel and a heap of other topics that my English teacher would probably have preferred I stayed away from. I was hooked.

As an adult, I’ve gone back and read her work, and it is the strangest thing, I could feel the memory of the excitement of 14-year-old-me reading them. She made me love books and for that I will always be grateful to her, who knows what might have happened if I hadn’t picked up one of her books back then?

Interestingly enough, perhaps the best book of hers I read was the non-fiction story Who Killed My Daughter about her search for the people responsible for her daughter’s murder. If you are not into young adult fiction but you would like to read Lois, I’d highly recommend this book. There is paranormal stuff in the book, but it’s real and it is amazing.

Top 10 Authors – Robert J Sawyer

I came across this author quite serendipitously. A friend saw a novel going cheap on a table of remaindered books, knew I liked science fiction, and so picked it up for me. This has been my lesson that seeing your book on the remaindered book table is not always a bad thing.

After finishing that first book it was only a short time until I had ordered most of his back catalogue online (the only place I could get him at the time). Like me, Robert J Sawyer is fascinated by evolutionary theory, and it creeps into all the books of his that I’ve read so far. I love that. Also like me, Robert J Sawyer has a cast of archaeopteryx hanging in his study, which I took as a sign that on some level we were kindred spirits.

I don’t know if having a deeper knowledge of the science behind his stories helps me to enjoy them more, but I don’t think so, I think they are entertaining in their own right. But as someone who has a bit of evolutionary theory and palaeozoology creeping into more and more of my stories, it seems a no-brainer that I would love Robert’s books.

However, even if evolution is nodsville for you, don’t let that turn you off. His novels are engaging, well paced and just a good read. You don’t have to have done university level biology to enjoy his books, but if you have, then I definitely think you would do well to pick one up and give it a go. I’d recommend starting with his stand-alone novels rather than his series.

Top 10 Authors – Stephen King

I’ve included Stephen King for his overall body of work. Some of his books I have loved, been awed by and inspired by. Others I have not been able to get through. It’s not that some books are bad and others good, but Stephen King is one of those lucky authors who can dabble in anything, and some of those things I just don’t tend to enjoy as much.

He has written some of my favourite short novels/novellas including ‘The Long Walk’, ‘The Running Man’ and ‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.’ I think it is no mistake that so many of Stephen King’s stories become movies, the man knows how to put a story together. He’s also got some really nice prose, but I’m usually so caught up in what is happening that I don’t stop to mull it over.

One of his books that has guaranteed its place in my library is ‘On Writing’ –it has been the best writing book I’ve ever read and I try to re-read it at least once a year, usually in January just as my New Year’s resolutions are starting to fail. Yes, I have just finished reading it again last week. It always gets me writing and that alone will leave me forever in Mr King’s debt.

For any of you who have dismissed Stephen King as a trashy horror writer, I really encourage you to try his work, and if you don’t like horror he has written a heap of non-horror stories. You may find it under Richard Bachman, but you really won’t have to try hard to uncover something without gore. I highly recommend you give it a go because you’ll find yourself transported to another world. He really is that good.

The Last Unicorn

I’ve just finished reading a book I wish everyone would read; The Last Unicorn – a search for one of the Earth’s rarest creatures, by William DeBuys. It is a non-fiction account of a journey into the jungles of Laos in 2011 to find evidence of the continuing existence of the saola (not actually a unicorn, thought I’d better nip that one so you don’t get disappointed).

The saola is the last large mammal to be discovered by western science. Unknown to us until 1992, this creature has been living in the high altitudes of the mountains between Vietnam and Laos for centuries in tiny ‘islands’ of habitat that have been ever decreasing. There may only be 70 of them left on the planet.

It would have been easy for this book to be a dry procession of facts, but William DeBuys really brings the reader along on the trek. You feel like you are in the jungle, you sweat, get sick of sticky rice and feel the sting of infected insect bites. It is, simply, beautifully written.

There were parts of the book that brought me to tears (not good when I do most of my reading on the bus) when you see the devastation happening to the forest and the biota, and knowing it is all happening in our lifetimes. Technology and population explosion seems to have sealed the fate for all the animals, not just in Laos and Vietnam, but everywhere. But amazingly, this book doesn’t leave you feeling hopeless and hollow at the end. There is optimism.

The one thing missing, for me, was the call to action at the end of the book. I desperately wanted to do something to help; donate money, raise attention, anything, but he didn’t tell me what I could do. But maybe that’s the point? If biological diversity is to have a hope of surviving on this planet there is no one place we need to focus our attention. All of us need to do everything we can to live more environmentally sensitive lives. All of us need to be aware.

Please read the book.

Wonderful world building

The book I’m reading at the moment has such a fantastic world that I’m actually reading it more slowly than usual so I can stay in the world longer. I don’t want the book to end because each time I get into it I get transported to somewhere amazing. That is good world building.

I think I’m going to have to go back and read it again once I’ve finished to try and see exactly how the author manages to introduce so many ideas so well and at the right time for the world to take shape as we read, while not info-dumping. Most books with worlds quite different to ours tend to have at least a little info-dump, but with this one I haven’t noticed it at all.

I get the feeling that the author was very deeply into the world before he started writing it. Perhaps his approach was that the world was another character, one whom he had got to know very well before putting pen to paper.

There is a lot I could learn from this book, I know that, but I also can’t learn from it because I’ve gotten so caught up in it. I love books like that. Just in case you want to join me on the journey the book is ‘Three Parts Dead’ by Max Gladstone –and a big thank you to Liz for the recommendation.

Our secret lives

This week I watched “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and, like many imaginative people, I saw a lot of myself in Walter. But this got me wondering; does everyone have a bit of Walter Mitty in them?

I think we all entertain fantasies in our day to day life, often negative ones if what people admit to is true (what you wanted to do to that person who cut you off, you know you had a moment there). How important is this un-reality to our mental wellbeing? And if it is fundamental our health, what role does the fantastical world of TV, movies and books play?

I am sure that imagining what we should have said to that rude person probably does salve our egos, and often our enjoyment of the fictional story of a film or book does leave us feeling like we have lived through those experiences and come out on the other side a better person (assuming your fiction of choice has something of a happy ending). I would even go so far as to say that fantasy is a kind of visualisation, and this has been proven to have huge benefits to the mind when employed in the right way.

My ‘visualisations’ range from how my work day would be impacted by the arrival of aliens on earth through to the more ‘normal’ imaginings of how I’ll react when the Boystown Lottery people call to tell me that I’ve won the prize home (I think I’ve got this one mastered now, so any time they want to do this I promise I’ll react correctly). I don’t know if either of these visualisations are beneficial to my mental health, but I do know that my secret life is definitely very entertaining, and I guess that’s enough for me.