So today I thought I'd do a little post about books that I absolutely love and adore and which have had a huge influence on me - but which I bet many of you have never heard of before. Some of these books are more famous on one side of the Pacific than the other, some of them don't get the attention they deserve anywhere. Get your pencils ready, boys and girls! You're going to want to write these down.
- First of all I'm going for one which (in my view) is not well known enough in either the UK or the US, and a book which I blame both for my incurable romanticism and my enduring love for bad boys. I was actually about eight when I read this the first time, way too young to be in the target audience. It didn't matter. This book changed my life: The Changeover by Margaret Mahy. It's the story of Laura Chant, a girl who notices odd things about the world that others do not, who gets strange feelings about people that tell her they are not entirely what they seem, and who gets 'warnings' from the universe when things are about to go wrong. When her beloved younger brother falls terribly ill with a sickness she thinks is supernatural, the only thing she can do to help him is to approach Sorry Carlisle - a beautiful and enigmatic boy from her school that she is sure is a witch. This is probably the first paranormal romance written for young adults. In fact, it's one of the first books to recieve a YA label ever. I love, love, love it and I think you should all read it if you can.
- Next up, a book that has recieved a lot of praise and attention in the US but very little in the UK. The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (and it's sequels The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia. There's a fourth linked book called A Conspiracy of Princes but I don't consider that to be part of the same series). If you like surprises, beautifully realised, intricate fantasy worlds, and multilayered REAL characters, these books are for you. I got through all three in about a day and a half and finished nothing less than awed by this author's skill. You may notice I'm not giving a synopsis here: that's because there's so many twists and turns in these books that there is literally nothing I can say which isn't a spoiler!
- Here's one that very few people have heard of: The Changeling Sea by Patricia McKillip. I cannot express how much of an influence this book has had on me. It is a book that truly deserves the word 'lyrical', like a prose poem that completely captures you in it's bittersweet, dreamy mood. It's the story of a young girl who has lost both father and mother to the sea in different ways, and how, through her passionate hatred of the ocean, she unravels a terrible curse, earns the love and gratitude of two princes, and heals both them and her own broken family.
- Bit of a change of pace here - we're going from fantasy to historical. If any of you have ever sighed over the exploits of Darcy and Elizabeth, then you will probably enjoy the works of Georgette Heyer, and my favourite of her books is The Unknown Ajax. The most telling thing I can say about it is that if I could marry any hero from any book I've ever read, it would be Hugo Darracot. I adore him, and I adore this novel.
- Back to fantasy. If you live in the UK you've probably heard of Diana Wynne Jones. A lot of people here read her younger fiction as part of the wizard craze following Harry Potter's release (although DWJ has been around a lot longer than JKR). But she also writes amazing YA fiction and Hexwood is one of her strangest, twistiest, scariest and most romantic books. The love story here takes a bit of effort to get your head around, but it's all the better for that. If you're anything like me you'll find you can re-read this about five times and get a different book each time. It manages to be funny and tragic, and to weave universal truths about human nature into its universe spanning tale of treachery, intrigue and love. It's that complex.
- Finally The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold. This lady is huge in the US. Not so much in the UK. If I was stranded on a desert island and could only bring a few books, this would be one of them. Cazaril is a wonderful character, flawed and struggling yet noble and compassionate with every fibre of his being. I loooove him. I love the way the plot unfolds here. I love the strong, intelligent female characters and I love the fictional world. This is an adult book and first time I read it, quite frankly it shocked me - there's some dark and powerful stuff in here. But now I know the way everything turns out, it has become my number one comfort read.