Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Top 5 Reads You Need

Last June, I completed my reading goal:
050. Read 3 books per month for 1 year
Now we're in January, it seems a good time to revisit the 36 books I read, and highlight the five that stuck out the most. These are my top recommendations!

Good Omens - Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fantasy/Comedy
What the blurb says: "According to the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter - the world's only totally reliable guide to the future - the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just after tea..."

The angel Aziraphale, along with the demon, Crowley, find out that the Apocalypse is coming. As they have an Arrangement (or to put it in human terms, are friends), and they quite like the world as it is thank you very much, they decide to do what they can to stop it.

Featuring characters such as Witchfinder Army Sergeant Shadwell, village gang the Them (led by Adam Young, age 11) and Anathema Device, descendent of Agnes Nutter, this book combines all that is good about Pratchett and Gaiman's writing (that is to say, everything).

The story is very entertaining, filled with lovable and believable characters, humorous footnotes, and a narrative style that will make you eager to turn to the next page.
(Okay, I admit it: I've read this book multiple times, and it is nearly always going to be in a Top 5 list.)

Prince - Ib Michael (Translated by Barbara Haveland)

Genre: Historical/Supernatural/Mystery
What the blurb says: "The summer of 1912 is a summer of freedom and discovery for Malte, the young boy who roams the beaches and observes the complicated world of adults around him. He daydreams, creating fantasy worlds of ships sailing to exotic worlds. But one day he finds a coffin on the beach, with a body of a sailor inside, and he starts to learn the secret story of the amber collector who made his fortune combing the beach for sea gold."

Narrated by a spirit, this book is impossible to put down once you start reading. The mysteries of the past and present are slowly revealed through this well-paced, engaging and beautifully written translation.
You won't get this book out of your head for days.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - Winifred Watson

Genre: Comedy/Romance/Slice-of-life
What the blurb says: Miss Pettigrew is a down-on-her-luck, middle-aged governess sent by her employment agency to work for a nightclub singer rather than a household of unruly children. Over a period of 24 hours her life is changed - forever.

First published in the late 1930s, this book is both funny and adorable. Miss Pettigrew and her new employer, Miss LaFosse, are complete opposites, and the dowdy governess, though feeling out of her depth, finds herself dragged along with Miss LaFosse's plans, and discovers that she isn't quite so out of her depth as she thought.
The story is straightforward and light-hearted, and being written in the thirties gives an interesting insight into the life and social attitudes of the people of that era.
This is the kind of book that I would never have considered reading, but the cover winked at me from the charity shop bookshelves, which is why I decided to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised!

The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller

Genre: Mythology/Historical/Romance
What the blurb says: "Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper - despite the displeasure of Achilles's mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. 
But when word comes tht Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. 
Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear."

This is a reimagining of the legend of Achilles, which plays around with the idea that Patroclus was not Achilles' cousin (as depicted in the film Troy) but his lover. The story is written through the eyes of Patroclus, which really brings life into the well-known tale. The characters were flawed - therefore believable! - and despite being written as lovers, the author avoided the cliche of effeminising them, instead depicting two masculine men at odds with the world.
I don't tend to read this sort of book but picked it up having seen a few reviews, so if you're reading this thinking, 'Well, I wouldn't enjoy that at all', do give it a try--you might be proven wrong, as I was!

Howl's Moving Castle - Diana Wynne Jones

Genre: Fantasy
What the blurb says: "In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility do exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste and is put under a curse. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to one place where she might get help - the moving castle which hovers on the holls above Market Chipping. 
But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls..." 

This is one of those books categorised as a 'young adult novel' that can actually be enjoyed by just about anyone. It's a real page-turner--I finished it in one sitting!
The characters are likeable and convincing (as convincing as characters in a fantasy novel can be!) and the storyline is clever and imaginative.
If you've seen the Studio Ghibli film of the same title, do read this book too. Whilst the film is based on the book, there are some notable differences--and much as I love the film, the book pips it at the post for storyline.

It's impossible to pick just 5 books from the 36 read for the goal, so here are a few honorable mentions:
  • Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children - Ransom Riggs
    First in a series of books about time travel and children with amazing talents. The sequels, Hollow City and Library of Souls are also good.
  • No Logo - Naomi Klein
    Non-fiction about multi-national brands and sweatshops. Published a good 15 years ago but probably still pretty accurate. Interesting, too!
  • Angelology - Danielle Trussoni
    A tale centred around the war between human Angelologists and an angelic race known as Nephilim. There's a sequel to this, titled Angelopolis, but I haven't read it yet. 

Nothing here quite to your liking? You can check out all the books I read for this goal on my books tag.

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