Tag: Dorothy L. Sayers

Top Ten Tuesday

Posted October 14, 2014 by in General / 16 Comments

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want To Visit (whether fictional or real)”. I suspect we’re going to see a fair amount of agreement on this one? I’m betting there’ll be plenty of “Hogwarts”, “Middle-earth”, etc.

  1. Middle-earth (The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien) — imaginary. I didn’t say I was exempt from that.
  2. Tywyn (The Grey King, by Susan Cooper) — real. And Cadair Idris, and… everywhere else that Will and Bran visit.
  3. The Lost Land (ditto) — imaginary. It sounds so amazing, and I want to look in their library.
  4. Fionavar (The Summer Tree, by Guy Gavriel Kay) — imaginary. Okay, it’d be a little bit like Middle-earth, really. But still.
  5. Camelot (Arthuriana) — somewhere in between. Possibly even both the imaginary courtly version to see the knights of legend, and the nearest real equivalent to see what it was really like.
  6. Scotland (Five Red Herrings, by Dorothy L. Sayers) — real. My mother has actually traced the whole route of solving that mystery. I wanna.
  7. Everywhere (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor) — real. All the travelling Karou does…
  8. London (Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman) — real and imaginary. Okay, London Below sounds pretty dangerous, but also really cool.
  9. Wherever Moomins live (The Moomin comics/books, by Tove Jansson) — imaginary. Because Moomins are cool.
  10. The Clangers’ moon (Clangers, by Oliver Postgate) — imaginary. Because I can totally communicate in whistles and I wanna know what blue string pudding tastes like.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted October 7, 2014 by in General / 24 Comments

This week’s theme for Top Ten Tuesday is “Ten Books For Readers Who Like Character Driven Novels”. I thought this one would be easy, initially, since characters are really important to me when I read, but it’s actually tougher than I thought.

  1. Pretty much anything by Guy Gavriel Kay. Even where his writing was less polished, more derivative, I fell completely in love with the characters. He’s one of the few authors who can reliably make me cry.
  2. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb. Sure, there’s a lot of plot too, but Fitz’s voice is the most important aspect of the story, and you just want to reach in and bang his head against something to force the sense in, sometimes.
  3. Sunshine, Robin McKinley. Not only is it vampires-done-right, but it’s first person narration, and everything Sunshine is as a character shapes the way the plot turns out.
  4. The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern. If you count the circus as a character almost on its own (I do), then yeah, this one definitely counts.
  5. Seaward, Susan Cooper. I need to reread this soon. I loved it so much, and despite the shortness of the book, Cooper built up a relationship between the two main characters that I genuinely loved and wanted to follow.
  6. The Nine Tailors, Dorothy L. Sayers. Actually, as far as being character-driven goes, you’re best reading the whole series chronologically, to get a feel for the way everything fits together, for the way the characters develop. I don’t even think I’d necessarily say I’d start with this one. But it’s the one that really made me understand Lord Peter.
  7. Chime, Franny BillingsleyTo say much about this would be to spoil it. A brief excerpt from my review: “Briony isn’t an easy narrator, and she isn’t reliable either, as she constantly tells us. The narrative isn’t a straightforward quest, it’s a maze, it’s full of funhouse mirrors.”
  8. Heart’s Blood, Juliet Marillier. This is the book where me and Marillier really clicked — I tried some before this one, and wasn’t impressed. But I got really involved with this, with the characters and their problems.
  9. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin. The narration is brilliant, the way it all slowly comes together, and I love what Jemisin does with her main character, and with the characters of the gods around her. Particularly when it comes to the child-god, Sieh, who has to act in accord with his nature, or he suffers.
  10. Among Others, Jo Walton. I strongly connected with this because I connected with Mori. Watching her grow up and begin to understand her world better over the course of the novel is a delight.

Wow, that actually took a lot of thought. Veeeery keen to see other people’s picks for this one!

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Thursday Thoughts: Audiobooks

Posted September 4, 2014 by in General / 15 Comments

Aaaaand this week’s theme from Ok, Let’s Read:

Do you listen to audiobooks/Have you listened to an audiobook in the past? What books? Do you enjoy audiobooks? Why or why not? Are there certain genres that you feel might lend themselves better to being read in audiobook form?

Audiobooks! I love listening to audiobooks, particularly while I’m crocheting or doing something else that similarly occupies my hands but not (too much of) my mind. For a long time I was just listening to the BBC adaptations of Dorothy L. Sayers’ work, and the mammoth set that is The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: I’m now supplementing that with a bit of Ngaio Marsh read by Benedict Cumberbatch, and I have some other books on the queue: some Iain (M.) Banks, one of Chris Holm’s, Trudi Canavan… I love the BBC audioplays of most things best: they do great casting, and they have a great range of stuff. My favourite was probably the adaptation of The Dark is Rising. It’s different, but I can accept that, because that’s what adaptations have to do. (Same reason as I reluctantly accept Faramir being less noble in The Lord of the Rings movie, because the reasoning makes sense. Also why I accept that some people will enjoy The Hobbit film, but I don’t: it’s an adaptation, and I can accept why they’ve done it that way, it just doesn’t work for me.)

So yeah, right now I’m listening to Artists in Crime (Ngaio Marsh) and Dead Harvest (Chris F. Holm). I’m struggling a little bit with Dead Harvest, even though I love the novel itself: it’s not abridged, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about the narrator at first, though by now I’ve decided he sounds perfect. Just a pity he doesn’t change his voice a little when Sam changes bodies…

The downsides to audiobooks for me, really, are when I disagree with the adaptation, the choice of narrator, the abridgement, etc. Also the pace: I’m a fast reader, and in the time it took the narrator to get to chapter three in Dead Harvest, I could’ve been on chapter ten by myself. Still, it’s a different medium and I try to enjoy it for what it is.

In terms of genres, no, I don’t think there’s a particular genre that lends itself to the form. I do think there’re styles that do, though: something with a lot of dialogue, and less by way of visual description, or with a good first person narrator, for example. So much depends on how the adaptation is done.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted September 3, 2014 by in General / 0 Comments

What have you recently finished reading?
The Hidden Landscape (Richard Fortey), which is gorgeous even though it’s about geology, a subject I care very little about. I think he could actually make me interested in gardening, a subject which I often point out to Grandma I know less than nothing about except I guess I know plant biology.

What are you currently reading?
I’m in a bit of a slump, actually, which makes all my ARCs and review copies a little awkward. Still, I’ve got Dead Harvest (Chris F. Holm) on the go as an audiobook, and Manon Lescaut (Abbé Prévost) has been loaded onto my ereader ready for a class. I think I’m 10% of the way through that? So yeah, not too bad, though I know the plot basically because of the reference in Clouds of Witness (Dorothy L. Sayers).

Oh, there is also We Are Here (Michael Marshall), which I’m enjoying in a slowly-unravelling sort of way. I like Michael Marshall (Smith)’s writing in general, so. There’s also Black Unicorn and Book of Skulls, still, which I probably mentioned last week, and The Toll-Gate (Georgette Heyer). As you can see, I’m not taking the reading slump lying down…

What will you read next?
For one of my Coursera classes, I need to reread Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte), so that’s most likely what I’ll do. I also have a biography of the Brontes out of the library, so maybe I’ll read that too.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted September 2, 2014 by in General / 4 Comments

This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is apparently the back to school edition: top ten characters I’d have sitting at my lunch table. Given I was the deeply unpopular kid in a tiny school, I rarely ended up sitting with anybody except the other deeply unpopular kid, so I’ll choose to believe that I get to pick who is at my table and they can’t say no, even if they’re way cooler than me.

  1. Mori, from Among Others. Because she actually is one of the less popular ones, and we have a lot in common.
  2. Bran, from The Dark is Rising. Because being Welsh and an outcast, he has plenty in common with me and Mori.
  3. Cath, from Fangirl. I haven’t actually read all of this yet, but Cath’s anxiety issues and fangirlishness mean we have plenty in common too.
  4. Harriet Vane, from Dorothy L. Sayers’ Peter Wimsey Mysteries. Because omg, Harriet.
  5. Peter Wimsey, from Dorothy L. Sayers’ Peter Wimsey Mysteries. Because he’d be hilarious and wouldn’t give a fig about me being unpopular.
  6. Steve Rogers, from Captain America. In skinny!Steve mode, he fits in with this group pretty well. Post-serum, he’d sit with us anyway because arbitrary stuff about cool/uncool people is not fun.
  7. Bucky Barnes, from Captain America. Because how exactly you’d have Steve without Bucky following somewhere behind, I don’t know.
  8. Peeta Mellark, from The Hunger Games. Because he seems pretty nice.
  9. Katniss Everdeen, from The Hunger Games. Silent, glaring, and sticking close to Peeta.
  10. Susan Pevensie, from The Chronicles of Narnia. Because she gets a raw deal from her family in the end, who dismiss her for not fitting in with the rest of them. God knows I don’t have much in common with Susan, but she went to Narnia once. She must be a good person.

Okay, what’s everyone else thought of that will undoubtedly make my list look uncool?

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted August 5, 2014 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is “Top Ten Books I’d Give To Readers Who Have Never Read X”. This is kind of a tough one, because I’m not really sure what to go for. My taste is pretty broad, but I know most people’s isn’t, so… (On the other hand, if I picked comics, it’d be Batgirl, Captain America, Spider-man and Young Avengers, and then I’d be running out.) So instead I decided I’d go for ten different values of X.

  1. Regency romance: The author is unquestionably Georgette Heyer, but which book…? Well, I started with The Talisman Ring, and adored it: I was a convert on the spot. I also enjoyed The Grand Sophy very much.
  2. Superhero comics: Ultimate Spider-man. It’s fun, you don’t need to know any back story, and it does start to bring you into the Marvel universe, with appearances from other characters like Daredevil, the X-men, Human Torch, etc.
  3. LGBT YA: David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy. So bloody adorable.
  4. Medieval-ish fantasy: While I love Tolkien, I think I have to award this spot to the more accessible Robin Hobb. She has a great narrative voice and a knack for characters you will love. Start with Assassin’s Apprentice; you may wish to skip the Liveships trilogy entirely, as I found that more uneven and full of characters I didn’t want to spend time with.
  5. Renaissance fantasy: Yep, ha, a technicality. Scott Lynch is my recommendation here, especially if you like the loveable rogue. Main downside is how long it takes for us to even see the most important female character of the series: she isn’t in the first two books.
  6. Golden Age crime fiction: Dorothy L. Sayers is my pick, without a doubt. I found that I needed to read a few books to get really into the character of her detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, which may be a problem. I might almost suggest beginning with a later book, perhaps Strong Poison. But if you’re willing to let a character grow on you, start at the beginning with Whose Body?
  7. Alternate history: Jo Walton’s Small Change trilogy wins hands down. Farthing is, for bonus points, a loving pastiche of Sayers’ work, although it is also a serious and harrowing tale of appeasing the Nazis and the world that creates.
  8. Speculative fiction: I’m going to go for something a little off the beaten path here. Try The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach. It completely enchanted me.
  9. Cheesy space opera: Philip Palmer. Or at least, Debatable Space, Artemis and Version 43. High octane fun! I found a lot of fault with these, but I also had a whale of a time.
  10. Non-fiction (science/history): The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The ethical issues this raises are well worth grappling with.

Somewhat random list, I know…

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Nothing says I love you like a book

Posted November 22, 2013 by Nikki in General / 10 Comments

No matter what the occasion, I try to buy people a book. It means some adaptation, and buying books I don’t normally buy — paranormal romance for my sister, certain types of non-fiction for my dad, violent crime fiction for one of my ex-housemates — but I do like to think about it, to pick out something that just fits. (I have one major failure: my best friend since childhood, Laura. Craft books, yes, but anything you could settle down and read… she doesn’t have the time/patience for it unless she’s on holiday, and then her taste is for chick lit type stuff. Hm, an idea strikes…) Luckily, a lot of people around me share my taste: Amy, my partner, my mum, to a great extent my sister.

So yeah, you know I love you when I come home from the charity shop glowing with glee and a stack of books carefully picked out just to suit your taste. My former housemates should be pretty familiar with this situation.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a couple of my happily united book couple successes — and then, if you like, you can comment with a book and some facts about someone, and see whether I can think of something.

For Dad: You Are Not So Smart, by David McRaney. Because whether he likes it or not, some of it is very relevant to things he believes about himself. Granted, he probably didn’t see it that way, but he did carry the book around with him from Christmas to the New Year. He’s a non-fiction reader, gave up on fiction a long time ago, but his knowledge tends to be widespread and general, so I always try to aim for something like this, rather than something super-technical.

For Mum: The Lions of Al-Rassan, by Guy Gavriel Kay. The Fionavar Tapestry and Tigana came first, I think, but it was Lions that had her texting me at three in the morning from Italy or Spain or whatever fancy conference she was at. (This is reciprocal more than any other book-giving relationship I have: she introduced me to Isaac Asimov, Robin Hobb and Dorothy L. Sayers, among others.)

For Squirt (my sister): The most memorable occasion was when I handed over her first Alastair Reynolds book, Century Rain. She’s been a fan ever since, and it actually kickstarted her into doing a lot more reading. I think her trust for my taste began at that moment. We actually went to a reading/signing by Alastair Reynolds, and her knees were practically knocking with nerves — my fierce little sister’s knees were knocking!

For the girlfriend: Occasionally I try and break her heart with stuff like Civil War: Iron Man, but mostly I’m nice and push books like The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern) and A Face Like Glass (Frances Hardinge) her way. One of our oldest literary successes was The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper). There was also Robin McKinley’s Sunshine and Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry, and more recently Jo Walton’s work you can see we share very similar taste in books. On the other hand, Cherie Priest’s Bloodshot and Hellbent bored her to death, where I love love love loved them, so it’s not all perfect.

For Amy (former housemate): The biggest hit was Garth Nix’s work. It’s now become a yearly Christmas tradition: a Garth Nix book or series, every year. He’ll need to write more, soon, or I’m doomed. Given that Amy’s dyslexic, Spellwright by Blake Charlton could’ve gone either way, but she ended up liking it.

For Ruth (former housemate): This was a lucky one. She mentioned being interested in the Tudors and particularly Lady Jane Grey. I found Alison Weir’s Innocent Traitor a couple of days later in a charity shop.

For Lynn E. O’Connacht: I can’t actually remember anything specific here, but we’ve traded books fairly frequently, starting with her sending me King Arthur’s Death (trans. Brian Stone), which contains the alliterative and stanzaic Morte Arthure poems. Anna Elliott’s Twilight of Avalon is another Lynn sent me.

So… yeah. If I love you, expect a book this Christmas (if I can get you anything at all, which is a different matter).

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Auto-read list

Posted November 11, 2013 by Nikki in General / 14 Comments

A friend, Lynn, posted a link to and her version of an interesting question at SF Signal a few days ago, and I thought I’d join in as well.

We all have authors whose work, for whatever reason, inspire us more than the rest, whose books standout and can always be counted on to entertain, and even to comfort. These are the ones that we’ll instantly forgive a misstep or two (maybe even three), because we love them that much, and will buy, and read, anything that they write. So, we asked our panel…

Q: What authors are on your autoread list, and why?
I’m going to discount deceased authors, for this, otherwise you’d just get it filled up with Dorothy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, Rosemary Sutcliff, and Raymond Chandler. Which in itself probably tells you a lot about me, but hey. To stick to the rules, I will also put Iain M. Banks in this group, although I haven’t read all of his work yet and haven’t quite adjusted to the idea that there will be no more.

  • Ursula Le Guin: I haven’t found all of her work memorable, and some of it I wouldn’t find worth rereading. Some of it I liked better on a reread than I did the first time. The thing with Ursula Le Guin is she’s willing to critique her own work in a way that inspires me: both in essays and by developing her themes further. The whole Earthsea sequence can be seen as a dialogue with fantasy tropes of male power which she first just accepts and then begins to work against. Or in some of her non-fiction collections, she’s critiqued some of the decisions she made in The Left Hand of Darkness to do with portraying gender and sexuality. She’s already prone to writing about diversity, and she’s willing to look back at her work and say, “Nope, screwed that up.” Except much more elegantly. What’s not to love?
  • Gillian Bradshaw: I haven’t read all or even most of her work yet, but Island of Ghosts told me all I needed to know about her attention to detail, her ability to make the historical engaging. I guess she’s comparable to Rosemary Sutcliff in some ways, though her novels are aimed at an adult audience and therefore perhaps less accessible. I should actually buy Island of Ghosts for my mother sometime, if there’s an ebook or larger print edition, because I think she’d like it too. (1)
  • N.K. Jemisin: This is precisely no surprise for anyone who knows me. Jemisin’s work is glorious, with diverse characters, exciting plots and strong world-building. I actually have a recurring dream element where somewhere in a dream about something else entirely, I will see a new N.K. Jemisin book on the shelves and have to read it. I can never remember when I wake up what the plot was about, but even my dreaming brain knows it’s gonna be good.
  • Michael Wood: Yep, this is non-fiction. All of his books are accessible, but detailed and as far as I’ve ever heard, accurate. I remember reading two of his books about medieval England while recuperating from my cholecystectomy, and I could concentrate on them even then, yet they didn’t feel dumbed down.
  • Scott Lynch: I suppose really he needs to write a bit more before I can tell whether it’s the world he’s created that I adore, or his writing alone. But on the strength of The Lies of Locke Lamora and its sequels, I’m willing to try anything he writes, and I’ve enjoyed a short story or two as well.
  • Jacqueline Carey: Okay, so I have Dark Currents on my shelf and haven’t got round to it yet, but regardless, I will eventually get round to everything Carey writes. There are many and varied problems I could point to with her work, particularly with how she deals with races other than the D’Angelines in the Kushiel books, but her work is satisfying in so many other ways. In the Kushiel books, there’s that push-pull relationship between Phèdre and Joscelin, there’s all that delicious loyalty stuff going on with Joscelin, there’s the permissiveness of their world, there’s politics and intrigue… And though many people don’t like them, I love Banewreaker and Godslayer for taking Tolkien’s pretty morally strict world and spinning it so we can see another side. (2)
  • Robin McKinley: I love what she does with retelling fairytales, I love her female protagonists, I love her writing style. Sunshine and Chalice are my favourites, but I’ve found something to enjoy in nearly all her work. Exception: Deerskin. It’s incredibly well written and all the emotions are wonderfully evoked, but it’s not a fictional space I was at all comfortable in. In a way it treats sexual violence much more seriously than, say, Jacqueline Carey. (3)
  • Joanne Harris: I started out life as a Joanne Harris reader with snobbery about Chocolat, only to discover that actually it was very readable, well written, and I fell in love with the characters. Harris actually has a genius for narrators, but also for making everything she writes a very easy read. Which she wouldn’t like me saying, if I recall conversations from Twitter correctly, but ’tis true nonetheless: I find that her books don’t throw up resistance to reading, but are easy to immerse myself in and just read. Which is, at least to me, a compliment.
  • Neil Gaiman: Periodically I come across people complaining about his privilege, or his wife, or his attitude toward women. Often I think these people have some good points to make. Regardless, his books have a similar quality to Harris’ in that I’ve rarely come across a roadblock. Anansi Boys being an exception, firstly because it made me wonder if my dad was secretly Anansi, and secondly because I got far too embarrassed for the characters. (4)
  • Ed Brubaker: At least if it has the words “Captain America” on the cover.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay: His prose is beautiful, and he’s one of the few authors who can frequently move me to tears.
  • [Previously omitted] Jo Walton: She wrote a book that felt just perfect for me, like she’d written it for me — I’m speaking, of course, of her Among Others. She’s written in a lot of different genres: dystopian alternate history with a detective story in the Small Change books; dragons in an Austenesque society in Tooth & Claw; fantasy based around the home and relationships in Lifelode; alternate Arthuriana in The King’s Peace/The King’s Name… She’s a versatile author who has yet to write a book that I didn’t enjoy, and The Prize in the Game is one of those few books that moved me to tears.
(1) I have several measures of admiration for books: do I want to give them to my mother, my sister, my partner, or all three? Island of Ghosts is probably more a Mum book than anything.

(2) Carey’s Kushiel books would be a I will give this to everyone in the world recommendation if it weren’t for the overabundance of kinky, often violent, sex which can’t be skipped because sometimes it’s plot relevant and it’s usually emotionally relevant for Phèdre in some way. Mum, if you read these books, a) no you cannot borrow my copies, you’d damage their spines, b) for the love of god, I don’t want to know if you read them, c) yes I am a prude, d) I’m twenty-four, I really need to stop addressing parts of my blog posts to you like you get to approve or disapprove! I think you gave up trying to regulate my reading material by the time I’d chewed my way through two libraries at the age of twelve anyway.

(3) Mum — and Lisa, if you haven’t read it — Chalice.

(4) Thing about Anansi in Gaiman’s work: if he names something, that name sticks. This can be observed with my dad and the local wildlife, teddy bears, people, or whatever else you can think of. These names somehow spread beyond the immediate circle who should know about it, so that by some alchemy I am Squeak to people who’ve never met my dad and who I don’t recall telling that story to.

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Reading and rereading

Posted October 19, 2013 by Nikki in General, Reviews / 5 Comments

I was thinking about the sort of content I can post here, and how to make sure there’s always some content going up at least once a week. I’ve pretty much decided that all reviews of ARCs will go up here, and any reviews of books I found particularly interesting. There’ll also be some giveaways, I’ll have my readathon progress posts here, and then there’ll be posts like this one: random topics related to books.

And what is this post about? Well, I was thinking today that I couldn’t actually pick my ten favourite books ever. But I could tell you the ten books/series I reread most. I am a rereader: it never actually occurred to me that was an odd thing until someone on Goodreads treated the idea with scorn. But while there’s so many books out there for me to get round to reading, there’s always more to find in the books I’ve already read — at least the good ones. So without further ado, and in no particular order because it already pains me to come up with a top ten in the first place…

(Well, okay, a bit extra ado — I’m adding links to reviews of these on Goodreads. If you have an account, I would super appreciate you clicking the like button there, if you do like them. It helps me get more ARCs, etc.)

#1 – The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

As a kid, I loved The Hobbit, and agitated for the day when my mother would let me read LotR. When she finally did, I was hooked. I probably read it at least once a year ’til I was about sixteen, and then I sort of caught the general bug going round about the various things wrong with Tolkien and lost interest. For a while. It was Ursula Le Guin’s essays in The Wave in the Mind that got me thinking about Tolkien again, and rediscovering his work; it was my MA that really got me digging into it. And god, guys, there’s so much there. I can actually understand people who find it boring, people who are troubled by his (lack of) portrayals of women, of non-white people, etc. But the sheer scale of the world he created, the seriousness he treated it with, I can’t help but love. I’ve reread LotR twice this year, I think — and I’m partway through a third time.

Reviews (from when I read the three books in twenty-four hours!): The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King.

#2 – Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay

Or probably just about anything by GGK. I actually usually have a problem getting into his books in the first place: his style takes some getting used to, for me, and some aspects of it annoy me (especially in his early novels). I love the world of Tigana, though, the characters and their intense feelings, the criticisms of colonialism that’re going on, and the way that he makes no promises of a happy ending. He walks a line of moral ambiguity quite well, allowing you to sympathise with both sides of the fight (at least in most cases; there is one unequivocal villain, but he isn’t really at the emotional heart of the story anyway).

Review.

#3 – The Dark is Rising Sequence, Susan Cooper

I suspect people who know me well are probably surprised this wasn’t the first one that came into my mind. I’m kind of surprised, too. I first experience The Dark is Rising through the BBC radio adaptation of the second book of the sequence — the cast was excellent, just perfect, and it gave me chills. I didn’t actually read the series until I was older, maybe about fifteen. And then I fell in love. It helps that the last two books are set in Wales. People who claim it’s morally black and white aren’t reading closely enough: there’s an absolutely lovely scene between John Rowlands and Will Stanton where they talk about that very issue, and conclude that while the Light and the Dark are like that, humanity is all shades in between.

The Arthurian elements help, too.

Reviews: Over Sea, Under Stone, The Dark is Rising, Greenwitch, The Grey King, Silver on the Tree.

#4 – Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Dorothy L. Sayers

Particularly Strong Poison and Gaudy Night, where Peter and Harriet first meet and where Harriet finally agrees to marry Peter, respectively. I have a huge soft spot for all forms of this: the books, the tv series, the radio adaptations… Edward Petherbridge and Ian Carmichael were both such perfect Peters in different ways. When I was in hospital recovering from having my gallbladder removed, and I was having serious panic attacks (my blood oxygenation % was in the low 80s, I believe), they wouldn’t let my mother stay with me, so she put a Peter Wimsey audiobook on and left it by my pillow. I have no idea which book it was or even which narrator, though I think it was Edward Petherbridge, but I closed my eyes and focused on that and up came my blood oxygenation levels. Like magic. I love that Peter is mentally ill (PTSD), I love that he’s such an ass but he cares so much, I love his relationship with Harriet… the mysteries are second for me to the characters.

Selected reviews: Clouds of Witness, Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night.

#5 – Sunshine, Robin McKinley

If you can read this and not end up craving cinnamon rolls and all such things, I don’t think you’re human. I love that here we have a vampire who is a good guy and is still unsettling as anything. It’s not easy for him and Sunshine to get along — and Sunshine is a strong heroine and a real person who is scared and unsure and doesn’t know what the heck is going on, and doesn’t want to. Sometimes, she even does really stupid stuff. But you’re with her all the way, anyway.

Review.

#6 – Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, anonymous

My partner refuses to read this on the grounds that if she didn’t like this, I’d probably break up with her. It’s not quite true, but I would be pretty upset. I didn’t think that much of it… and then I did a module devoted to it during my BA. We focused closely on the language, picking apart all of it for the rich tapestry of allusions and influence and… It’s just genius, and it’s awfully fun to read aloud, too. My favourite translation is probably the least accurate one, by Simon Armitage, but there are several other good ones. I own at least seven different translations, plus one with the original Middle English.

Selected reviews: Simon Armitage’s verse translation, J.R.R. Tolkien’s verse translation, W.R.J. Barron’s prose translation.

#7 – The Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jemisin

The first time I started reading this, I finished the first book that evening and pounced on the next book as soon as I could. I love the diversity in these books — race, gender, ability, sexuality, class… I just fell in love with the world right away, and never looked back. I’m less of a fan of her Dreamblood duology, but The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and its sequels are wonderful. She has a real knack with creating interesting narrators, and with telling a story that’s gripping and involving even if you don’t 100% like the characters. I would happily buy any of Jemisin’s work without even stopping to check the blurb, in future.

Reviews: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, The Kingdom of Gods.

#8 – The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights, John Steinbeck

It actually starts out fairly weak, but as Steinbeck found his voice, he began to make the stories really live for me. They’re amusing and tender and fresh all at once — and yes, freshness is kind of hard when you’re working in the Arthurian tradition, especially when you’re retelling a specific version (in this case, Malory). This is one of the few versions of the story where I sympathise with Guinevere and Lancelot. Steinbeck never finished or properly edited this, and yet it’s still so powerful… I’d be almost scared to read it if he’d finished it. I’d definitely cry.

Review.

#9 – FAKE, Sanami Matoh

This was one of the first series of manga I ever read, and one of the first LGBT stories I ever came across outside of fandom. I loved Dee and Ryo and the development of their relationship, and when I’m feeling down, I often feel tempted to grab the first volume and dive right back in. What I really liked is that it isn’t just about how much Dee wants to bone Ryo: they take care of each other, they have personal crises and work crises, and they fight crime. And they fall in love. And it’s funny.

(I don’t have a good review to link to, for this series.)

#10 – Sword at Sunset, Rosemary Sutcliff

Technically, I’d be happy to read the whole series over and over again, but the arc from The Eagle of the Ninth is pretty tangential in this book — I wouldn’t be surprised if most people don’t notice it. I love the relationships in this book, the way that Gwenhwyfar and Arthur so honestly try to love one another, the way that Bedwyr and Arthur (and most of Arthur’s men, in fact), so palpably love one another. The intensity of that friendship… well, it can definitely be read as bordering on homoerotic. It’s also heart-wrenching, and just… the whole thing is beautiful.

Review.

And I could go on… I won’t, though. I will add two books that I suspect will make this list in future, though.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern: I thought it was just gorgeous, the language and the ideas and the imagery and the relationships and the magic and, and, and…
A Face Like Glass, Frances Hardinge: It actually reminded me of The Night Circus, for a younger audience, in some undefinable way, that same sense of magic and wonder. I loved every scrap of it. I bought it on a whim and read it all in one go, and then started buying copies for everyone else — and asked for Hardinge’s other books for Christmas without even checking the blurbs, which is pretty rare for me. They’re still sat on my shelf, waiting for when I really deserve a treat…

The minute I post this, I will realise I’ve left someone off and agonise about who I could strike out to add them in. In fact, make that before I’ve even posted it — obviously Ursula Le Guin deserves to be in the list, probably more than a few of the others. The Earthsea Quartet is another of those series I could read over and over. My favourite thing about it is probably the way that throughout the stories, Le Guin recognises what she’s lacking (female characters, female power) and begins to critique her own work through adding to it.

You see what I did there? I snuck in thirteen books/series in all. Hah.

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