Some time ago, one of my readers left a comment asking me to recommend some good books. First, I must apologise, since it has been much longer than I intended; Miss Chevious was sick, I've been sick, the weather has been crazy, and every day I meant to write this post, I'd suddenly notice it was too late to begin. So I'm sorry to keep you waiting so long.
One other reason for the delay was simply that I always find it hard to offer a good answer to such questions. Why? I've surely read enough books that picking out a few good ones shouldn't be a problem. Part of the problem is that I've read so many
books, I have to think to remember even a fraction of them. There are books I'd like to reread, but I recall the story and setting, but not the title or author.
The other problem is that, unless you know the taste of the other person very well, it is hard to be sure you're steering them to a book they'll really enjoy. I've had it happen to me; someone will tell me I simply have to read this book or that, and when I'm halfway through I suddenly realise that I would have been much happier spending my time reading something else.
And there are a lot of very good books out there, that are completely ruined for you if you try to read them at the wrong time. If your mood and that of the book are out of tune, you'd be better off putting it down and picking up another one. That way, if you want to try it later, you won't have ruined it for yourself. Before I understood this, I ruined quite a few books; ones I can't stand reading now. School requirements did a good job of ruining a few for me, too.
I may write more about my own reading quirks later, but for now, I'll explain the "rules", then list a few books or authors I recommend. I don't tend to worry much about genre. There are genres I read more than others; again, I may post about that some time. But I don't limit
myself by ruling out any genres. I'll explain a little about each book, and why I like it, so you can judge for yourself if its worth looking up. And I'll post more later; this only scratches the surface, and it's a short
scratch.Night Trains - Arthur Chrenkoff
; I just bought and read this a few weeks ago. Although it has fantasy elements, I've seen books with more fantasy classified as "mainstream" (one reason I ignore genre). It is about a man from our time who gradually notices what he thinks are phantom trains. He discovers they run to Europe during World War II, and he becomes involved in riding them, saving the lives of those who otherwise would have died then. Perhaps I loved it so much because, if the night trains were real, I'd want to go back myself. Terrified as I'd be, I couldn't refuse such a chance. Like any honest book with scenes from Nazi Germany, it has some very painful moments.Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank
; Most of you have already read this. Still, just in case you haven't, it is the one book I'd recommend to anyone. Anne was a wonderful writer - what a talent the world lost with her death! Quite apart from my opinion we all need to see people as individuals, not as groups, Anne is a person worth getting to know. I've read other diaries of those who died at the hands of the Nazis in World War II; I can't bring myself to speak too harshly of any of them. Nevertheless, none of the others I've read comes close to this one. Few people know about this, but a few short stories and fragments she wrote have also been published. The title varies, but they are worth reading, too.Hawk of May - Gillian Bradshaw
; Also: Kingdom of Summer
and In Winter's Shadow
, or they are collected as Down the Long Wind
. These are a retelling of The Matter of Britain, or the Arthurian legend. I read anything that touches on The Matter of Britain, but I'm not that happy with most of it. This is the telling of Arthur's story I prefer above any other I've read, save the earliest stories. She's written a number of other books, and I've read some of those; there are too many to list here, but I haven't read a book of hers I didn't like. She began by writing historical fiction, and has branched out into science fiction and more.The Silver Pigs - Lindsey Davis
; This is the first mystery in the Marcus Didius Falco series, which is set in ancient Rome. It is one of the most accurate portrayals of Roman life in fiction, showing both how much like us they were, and yet how different. Start with the first book, and read them in order. If you get attached to Marcus and his friends, as I have, you'll want to discover their lives this way.Mark of the Horse Lord - Rosemary Sutcliffe
; Another historical novel, also set in Roman Britain. Are we seeing a pattern here? Well, that's an area I just can't resist. One of the reasons I developed my interest, apart from Arthur, was Rosemary Sutcliffe. She wrote many other historical novels, most set in Roman Britain (including a take on the story of Arthur that's not bad at all) and a few set in other times. All her books are good, but be warned: don't read this one if you're depressed.Fitzempress' Law - Diana Norman
; This is a historical novel, with a bit of modern story in the beginning to set up the situation she wanted to portray. I loved this because the descriptions were so vivid I felt as though I were actually living in the Middle Ages. Oddly, the only other thing she seems to have written is a rather dry biography of a figure important to Irish history but otherwise totally obscure.Fireweed - Jill Paton Walsh
; Set in London during the Blitz, this novel drew me in and had me feeling right along with Bill, the protagonist. It might seem like an unlikely story, but I've researched enough about the Blitz to know it could very well be based on a true story. If it didn't happen, it surely could have. Those who lived through the Blitz always remembered that time as almost magical. This book will show you why. Some day, I mean to track down her other books and read them, since judging by this one, I'm sure the others are worth the effort. (Of course, the only thing longer than the list of books I've read is the list of ones I want to read someday.)The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress - Robert A. Heinlein
; This book is one of the very few which features a computer as a character that actually succeeded in making me care
what happened to that character. Heinlein could be magical; I don't agree with all his ideas, but he does make you think. I don't recommend all his books without reservation, though. In later years, he became a bit strange in what he wrote. He started out writing very good science fiction; his later books defy category. In his defence, that all seemed to start after he became ill. If you love all his earlier books, you'll sooner or later want to read the later ones, for the glimpses of familiar characters if nothing else. Start with this book, then stick to his earlier works for a while. If you don't, the later Heinlein might scare you away, and that would be a shame.The Quality of Mercy - Faye Kellerman
; The amusing thing about this is that Faye Kellerman is known as a writer of mysteries, but this is the one book she's written that's historical fiction. Shakespeare makes an appearance, and it is really a lot of fun to read. Less fun and more depressing, but still worth reading are her mysteries, featuring Peter Decker and Rina Lazarus.