|The individual book links below will take you to the relevent Amazon.com page where you can read reviews, customer comments, check out the size, binding, price and so on, and then order if tempted. At the moment, I am listing the US editions of my books, but later I will be adding a complete list of favourite books from other authors, why I like these books and why I think everyone should buy them.
For anyone who wants to buy the Australian editions of my books online (and some of my titles are only available in Australia), I recommend visiting Dymocks, Gleebooks, Readings, or Bookworm.com.au
Books By My Favourite Authors
The following list-come-article on my favourite books is a work in progress, as I intend to keep adding to it as I remember particular authors or re-read their works. In addition to listing books that you can currently purchase from Amazon.com, I am also listing many out of print books that are worth hunting down (try www.abebooks.com). I was surprised to find so many of my favourites out of print in the US, though some are still available in British or Australian editions. Every book available from Amazon will have a hotlink (to the paperback edition where available), the out of print books I have mostly put in italics.
Some of the books listed here are published as children's or YA books, some are published as adult novels. However, unless I've noted otherwise, all of them to my mind are suitable for anyone aged 12 to 100 (or older if you're still reading). As always, the best children's or YA books are often really adult books that just happen to be particularly accessible for children or teenagers as well.
Finally, my comments are merely my own opinion. These are books I love or admire or that have expanded my mind or my knowledge, or all of these things. I hope you will find treasures here too, or be reminded of books that once brightened your life but have been forgotten along the way.
Fantasy And Science Fiction
Ursula Le Guin has written some of the most thoughtful science fiction and fantasy I have ever read, works which bear repeated re-reading. I've just revisited The Left Hand of Darkness and as a reader, been amazed at the reality of the world she portrays, and as a writer, humbled. It is the story of a human visitor to the planet Winter, and his interaction with the hermaphroditic inhabitants who are at the same time so similar but so different to humans in their sexuality, politics and thinking. I also recently re-read The Dispossessed, subtitled 'An Ambiguous Utopia'. In this book Le Guin manages to deliver a fascinating study of a probably impossible but totally believable anarcho-syndicalist society, compares this with a capitalist , balkanised world, and tells a compelling human story about a mathematician.
Le Guin's fantasy works are equally as good. A Wizard of Earthsea is a modern classic. Once again, it seems very real, as the reader follows the story of Sparrowhawk from his boyhood, through his training as a mage, and his great struggle with a shadow that should never have been released. The second book in the quartet, The Tombs of Atuan, focuses on Tenar, a young priestess growing up in a claustrophobic, treacherous community of priests who serve ancient and vicious powers. There are many levels to this story, which can be read on the surface with great enjoyment when you're twelve or so, and revisited many times as you get older. This also applies to the third book, The Farthest Shore, which is the story of a young prince's quest, aided by the now very old Archmage Sparrowhawk.
Tehanu, subtitled 'The Last Book of Earthsea' is quite different from the other three books in the quartet, both in style and content, though it reunites Tenar and Sparrowhawk following the events of the third book. It is more didactic and more overtly thought-provoking. It doesn't meet the expectations set up the other three books, delivering something different but still valuable. I don't think I would have enjoyed it as a teenager (when I read the first three), but I do now as an adult.
Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favourite fantasy authors. Nearly everything she has written is worth reading, because her books are always inventive, funny and clever. My personal favourites are Dogsbody, the story of a star (like the sun) that is forced to inhabit the body of a dog and carry out a difficult modern-day quest bound by a dog's limitations, both physical and intellectual; Charmed Life, which first introduces the character of Chrestomanci, the immaculately clad Victorian-era guardian of magic; Archer's Goon, a very clever and amusing look at families, writing, time travel, world domination and municipal management; Howl's Moving Castle, which manages to tell a funny and moving story of young love and magic; and Fire and Hemlock, a tale of love, obsession and self-sacrifice, within the framework of a very original re-telling of the Tam-Lin story.
Robin McKinley's work, I realised upon a recent re-reading, has had a major effect on my own writing. My Sabriel owes much to her heroines Aerin and Angharad (Harry) Crewe, who appear respectively in The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. These two books are among the best works of 'high fantasy' around and McKinley's other books are also a must-read. I'm not much of a sequel-chaser, generally being content with whatever the writer wants to offer, and I certainly haven't been disappointed by Deerskin or Rose Daughter. But I would love to read another McKinley book set in Damar, even if it was not in Aerin's or Harry's time.
Robert Heinlein, despite his later books, remains a great favourite. Paradoxically, I think the 'juvenile' novels he wrote mainly for money are actually much superior to the turgid tomes of his later career. Somewhere along the line his desire to communicate particular theories or political concepts destroyed his ability to tell a story. But when he was in storytelling mode, he wrote some of the best, most engaging and 'unputdownable' SF books.
My favourites include the story of Thorby Baslim, who grows up a slave on the neo-Roman world of Sargon before embarking on a galaxy-wide adventure to find his true identity in Citizen of the Galaxy. Then there's Have Space Suit Will Travel, which in many another writer's hands would have turned to dross, but Heinlein makes 'boy wins space suit in soap competition and saves the world from aliens' a compelling and very human story. Red Planet also succeeds in making the reader believe in a Mars of frozen canals, ancient Martians, annual migrations and a charming 'beachball-like' pet called Willis who is the key not just to escape from a totalitarian boarding school but also to the Martian colonists' future. Between Planets shifts the scene to a swampy Venus and a young man's coming of age set against the backdrop of a colonial war, reflecting America's own struggle for independence against Britain. Space Cadet, despite being a rather derogatory term today, is also a favourite. Heinlein makes real and fascinating the progress of several rather ordinary teenagers through a school in space that will equip them for careers as interplanetary peacemakers, complete with an unexpected final test on Venus.
Another one of my all-time Heinlein favourites is Starman Jones, which follows the path of Max Jones, the hill boy with an eidetic memory who manages to fulfil his dream of getting into space and even becoming an astrogator, but eventually has to pay the price and shoulder the responsibilities he has assumed, when the passenger liner Asgard makes a bad transition into uncharted space. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is also one of Heinlein's best, but perhaps should not be the first of his books you read. It is more overtly political but not so much that the story is overwhelmed. At its core is the relationship between a computer repairman and a secretly sentient computer who basically runs everything in the lunar colonies, which have grown out of a penal settlement. It's a grand story of revolution, the price (and meaning) of liberty and a surprisingly early prediction of the importance computers will (and now do) play in human society.
Alan Garner is one of the finest fantasy writers ever, and I suspect The Weirdstone of Brisingamen had as much to do with my love of fantasy as Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, since my parents read them both to me at roughly the same time and I read them myself soon after. I keep compulsively buying different editions of it every time it is re-released, perhaps because I lost my original copy when I was about nineteen and couldn't replace it for five or six years, till I found a pristine hardcover in a country town secondhand store for $2.00. Fortunately for American readers it has just been re-released in paperback there, as has the sequel The Moon of Gomrath. Both these books are set around the town of Alderley in Cheshire, and the hill called Alderley Edge, where two children get drawn into an age-old struggle between good and evil and into a world where legends live on under the surface of the modern age.
Garner's other books are also highly recommended, particularly The Owl Service(which has the most beautifully written final paragraphs) and Red Shift, though the latter may require several readings to even begin to understand it. It is one of the few books in my experience that are 'felt' rather than really read.
Jack Vance is a writer whose style, wit and imagination make all his many books a pleasure to read. I don't think I've ever read a bad Vance novel, though naturally when you compare him against himself, some are better than others. He writes both fantasy and science fiction, always with great verve, inventiveness and a sort of baroque embellishment that he makes work, seemingly effortlessly.
I think you could buy anything by Vance and enjoy it, but perhaps the best place to start is with his science fiction saga of a personal revenge that spans many worlds, told in the five books of The Demon Princes series. Happily, they have been collected into two volumes, The Demon Princes Vol.1 (The Star King, The Killing Machine, The Palace of Love) and The Demon Princes Vol.2 (The Face, The Book of Dreams).
Another great collection is Vance's Planet of Adventure series, four books in one volume, each one dealing with the adventures of the Earthman Adam Reith and his interaction with the varied races of the planet Tschai. Other favourites of mine include his books set in the Alastor cluster of stars, which seem to be (I hope temporarily) out of print. On the fantasy front, I highly recommend The Dying Earth, Rhialto the Marvellous and the Lyonesse trilogy -- all seemingly out of print at the moment.
Joan Aiken is another favourite author who has travelled with me from an early age. I loved (still love) her early short stories, collected in books like a Necklace of Raindrops or All You Ever Wanted ;and I couldn't get enough of her 'alternate history' series where King James II wasn't deposed and the Stuarts ruled into the 18th century. The best of these, at least to my mind, are the first four: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Black Hearts in Battersea, Night Birds on Nantucket and The Cuckoo Tree. I also really like Midnight is a Place but am not so fond of The Stolen Lake, Is Underground or the later books. They seem less joyous, though perhaps it is simply that I have too high an expectation or remember the ones I read as a child with greater affection.
Victoria Walker seems to be a largely unknown author, but I prize my copy of The Winter of Enchantment very highly and suggest you seek it out. A great fantasy tale of a young boy who must undertake a quest to free a girl from the eternal prison of the Enchanter, aided only by the Silver Teapot, Mantari the cat (who ate the Silver Fish and so inadvertently took its power), the Seasons, and their own courage. Somebody should republish this book!
I will soon be adding more F&SF authors, including Guy Gavriel Kay, Susan Cooper, J.R.R Tolkien, Katherine Kurtz, Sheri S. Tepper, Tamora Pierce, Roger Zelazny, Neal Stephenson and others.
Hmmm . . . Great Books That Defy Categorisation
Tove Jansson has written some of the most beautiful, wise, moving, funny and charming books that I have ever read. Yes, the Moomin books are for children (from about age 6 upwards, if read to), but they're also for adults. They are fantasy, but of a very original kind. They have great illustrations (by the author) but they're novels, not picture books. How can I explain them? They're about moomins, who are sort of hairless Finnish trolls with very human characteristics, except that they hibernate in winter. They inhabit a Moomin house (I want one) and live eccentrically, with many adventures.
I was fortunate enough to have my parents read the Moomin books to me when I was six and seven and even luckier when I was eight (I think) and my mother put on Moominland Midwinter as a puppet play for my birthday. She made all the puppets (sadly only The Groke survives today, due to mice and silverfish) and even a proper puppet theatre, with various backdrops. Including one with a red cellophane insert for the great bonfire. As a late and insufficient thankyou, I bought her all the hardcover editions last year.
In a rough suggested reading order, the books are Finn Family Moomintroll, Comet in Moominland, Moominsummer Madness, Moominland Midwinter, Moominpappa at Sea, Moominpapa's Memoirs and Tales from Moominvalley. I can't recommend them highly enough.
Rosemary Sutcliff is one of my favourite writers of historical fiction. Notionally for children, most of her works are simply good books. A good point to begin is with The Eagle of the Ninth, the story of a young, invalided-out centurion's quest for a lost eagle (standard) and the truth of his father's fate, which is also the first book of a loose trilogy. The second book, The Silver Branch, is a story of intrigue, loyalty and corruption, set in the time of Carausius, one of the breakaway Emperors who ruled Britain for a time. The third, The Lantern Bearers, is the story of the Romans who had to choose Britain or the Empire when the time came for the legions to sail away. Another of my particular favourites is Knight's Fee, a bittersweet tale of friendship and rivalry between two boys who grow to become men, set in early Norman England.
Georgette Heyer is a great storyteller who is often overlooked by male readers because they think of her as a writer of romance standards. Her books are romances, but the best of them are also very funny, and even the worst of them are historically accurate and fascinating depictions of bygone times. My personal favourites are Friday's Child (the funniest), Devil's Cub, These Old Shades, The Tollboth, Uncommon Ajax and Sylvester(or the Wicked Uncle). I can't believe they are all currently out of print or unavailable in the USA. Still, there are plenty around second-hand.
Ronald Welch is another of my favourite historical writers from childhood, though his books are hard to come by today. Most of them trace the long history of the d'Aubigny family of Wales, all the way from The Third Crusade in Knight Crusader to the bloody fields of the First World War in Tank Commander. Along the way there is For the King!, Captain of Foot, Nicholas Carey, Ensign Carey and a couple of others I forget. One of my personal favourites (though not a d'Aubigny tale) is Son of York, the story of a young knight in the Wars of the Roses.
Robert Graves is a more heavy-duty historical novelist, but at the same time he manages to bring Ancient Rome to life in I, Claudius and Claudius the God, the fictionalised biography of the Emperor Claudius, covering his life through the reigns of Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula and then his own. Drawn heavily from primary sources, Graves delivers a great deal of history to the reader, but not at the expense of the story or the many fascinating characters. A lesser known work, but one that I found equally interesting (though apparently not as well-founded historically) is Count Belisarius, which tells the life of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian's most successful, but least favoured, general.
Graves' biography of his early life and service during World War One is also a great (if disturbing) read. However, you do need to read the original edition of Goodbye to All That, not the one he revised and heavily edited in the 1960s.
A whole lot to come at the next update. Some favourite biographies, histories and just plain interesting non-fiction.
Reference Works for Writers
My all-time favourite reference work is Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Where else can you look up things like 'The Calydonian Boar' or discover that the Lucifer Match was initially called a 'friction light'. Other useful references include The Chicago Manual of Style and the AGPS Style Guide (Australian). I also have a very useful and accessible reference called The Right Word at the Right Time, originally published by Reader's Digest, but none the worse for that.
I'm a big fan of subject-oriented dictionaries like The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea, which offers fascinating reading as well as an incomparable reference on things nautical. The Dictionary of the Underworld (published at the beginning of this century) is also very interesting, but would be hard to find.