Lian Tanner

Other people’s books

I love it when my favourite authors put up lists of their favourite books. It’s a great way of finding new things to read.

So here are some of my top books and authors. They are in no particular order, and I’ll add more as I find/remember them. The categories overlap, and you’ll find good YA books in the children’s section and vice versa. Same with the adult books.

Books for children

Frances Hardinge, Fly by Night and Twilight Robbery. Both these books tell the story of Mosca Mye, a fierce orphan with an even fiercer goose. They are funny, captivating, rip-roaring adventures and exquisitely written. Here’s the blurb for Twilight Robbery. ‘Blackeyed orphan Mosca Mye and conman Eponymous Clent are down on their luck. So when they find themselves embroiled in a daring kidnap plot, the whiff of money is too tempting to resist, even if it means getting trapped in the deadly city of Toll-by-Night with only a murderous goose to help them.’

Ingrid Law, Savvy – Mibs Beaumont is about to turn thirteen, which is when her ‘savvy’ will strike. She’s got one brother who causes hurricanes and another who creates electricity. Her Great Aunt Jules could step back twenty minutes in time whenever she sneezed. What will Mibs’ savvy turn out to be? A wonderfully original book which I have only just discovered.

Nancy Farmer, The Sea of Trolls – this is the story of Jack, an apprentice bard. He and his little sister are captured by a Viking chief, Olaf One-Brow, and taken to the court of Ivar the Boneless. Very exciting.

L.A. Meyer, Bloody Jack – this is the first in a series about an orphaned girl on the streets of London who disguises herself as a boy and joins the British navy to fight Napoleon. The books are funny and exciting, and Jackie Faber is a wonderful heroine.

Diana Wynne Jones, Power of Three – I love pretty much anything by Diana Wynne Jones, but this is probably my favourite. It’s the story of Gair, who feels like a failure. His brother and his sister can see into the future and find things that are lost, but Gair is just ordinary. If you’ve never read a book by this author, GO AND FIND ONE IMMEDIATELY. She writes great YA books too.

Philip Pullman, Northern Lights (also published as The Golden Compass) – a book of wonderful invention. Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon, set out to find a missing boy, and end up in the frozen North, a world of armoured bears, flying witches, and scientists who are carrying out experiments too horrible to be spoken about. The book is much better than the movie.

Peter Dickinson, Eva – anything by this author is guaranteed to be good, but this is an extraordinary story about a girl who has been in a coma and wakes up to find that something terrible has happened, and her life has been changed forever. The Ropemaker is also terrific.

Zizou Corder, Lionboy – Charlie Ashanti can speak Cat, and when his mum and dad go missing, the cats are the only friends he can turn to. First in a series. The lions are wonderful.

Elizabeth Honey, 45 and 47 Stella Street and everything that happened – a fast, funny book. It’s 11-year-old Henni’s version of what her gang did when the Phonies moved into their street and started to spoil everything.

Books for young adults

Megan Whalen Turner, The Thief – this is the first book in a brilliant fantasy trilogy set in the world of Attolia, and I’ve been meaning to put it up for ages. It has deservedly won a number of prizes, and is one of those books that sneaks up on you, so by the end you are left gasping. The others in the trilogy (The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia) are just as good if not better. Make sure you read them in order.

Melina Marchetta is fast becoming one of my all-time favourite authors. I’ve just read Saving Francesca, and now have to go back and re-read The Piper’s Son – the story of Thomas Mackee, who is trying to find his way back from a year when everything is broken. Marchetta writes like an angel and her characters are the sort of people you’d like to know. I don’t know anyone who writes better about friendship, family, love and ordinary life. A previous book of hers, Looking for Alibrandi, is also wonderful.

Philip Pullman, Ruby in the Smoke – a terrifying mystery filled with strange letters, rat-haunted streets, the deadly fumes of opium – and, at the heart of it all, a jewel soaked in blood. First in a series.

Robin McKinley, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown – these are her Damar novels, and are still my favourites, though she’s written a lot since. Her vampire novel, Sunshine, is also excellent. She takes things that have been overdone, like vampires and dragons, and finds a new slant on them. She’s a wonderful author.

John Marsden, Tomorrow When the War Began – a group of teenagers go camping in the Australian bush. When they come back home, they discover that their parents have disappeared, their country has been invaded, and they are at war. A great series.

Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go – ‘The first thing yer find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.’ What an unmatchable first sentence! And the whole book lives up to it. I haven’t read the second in the series yet, but I hope it’s as good as this one.

Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines – ‘It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea.’ Another brilliant first sentence, and another terrific series.

Ursula le Guin – anything by this author is terrific. She’s got an old series called the Earthsea trilogy that is still a great read.

Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now – funny and moving. An American girl goes to stay with her English cousins during a summer that changes the world.

Margo Lanagan, Black Juice – this is a book of amazing short stories, many of which give me the shivers. She is one of my favourite authors.

Books for adults

Tanya Huff, The Silvered. I’d give this book twenty stars if I could – that’s how much I enjoyed it. Tanya Huff has been one of my favourite fantasy authors for a while, but this is her best book yet. She takes the standard tropes – werewolves, mages – and makes them completely her own. AND she delivers a pacy, nail-biting story into the bargain. Mirian is a wonderful heroine, and Huff uses alternating points of view to fine effect in building the dangers into which she (Mirian) and shapechanger Tomas are running. The only problem with a story like this is that it has to end.

S.J Rozan, The Bill Smith/Lydia Chin mysteries. This a wonderful crime series, with some books told from Bill’s pov and some books told from Lydia’s. They are set in New York, and Rozan’s writing doesn’t miss a beat. Great characters, tight plots, and the relationship between Bill and Lydia continues to fascinate me. I’m working my way through the series slowly, and loving every moment of it.

Kate Johnson, The Untied Kingdom. I LOVE alternate history stuff, especially when it is as well written as this one. It’s the story of Eve Carpenter, who used to be in a girl-band but is now a has-been on a reality TV show in London. While paragliding on the show, she falls through a hole between the worlds and lands in an England where the Reformation never happened, where England is a third world country racked by civil war, and Princess Di is still alive. The worst of it is, everyone thinks Eve is a spy. Great characters, great romance, and the author doesn’t put a foot wrong.

Alfred Lansing, Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage to the Antarctic. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but this book is so beautifully written and on such an extraordinary topic that I was gripped from beginning to end. Lansing wrote it in 1959 (it was a bestseller, unsurprisingly), so he had access to a number of the men who were on the 1915 expedition, as well as their diaries. It is quite astonishing to see what people can survive, when they are driven to their limits. Such a heroic story.

Jo Walton, Farthing. I love alternative histories when they’re well-written and this one is. And it’s got a recommendation from Ursula le Guin on the front page, which is what drew me to it in the first place. On a summer weekend in 1949, a small group of upper-crust English politicians who helped to overthrow Churchill and negotiate peace with Hitler eight years earlier are having a country retreat. One of the daughters, Lucy, is happily married – despite her parents’ deep disapproval – to a London Jew. So she’s a bit surprised when she and her husband David are invited along for the weekend. This is a chilling novel, but my word it’s good!

Diana Norman’s historical novels. I’ve got her below in her alter ego as Ariana Franklin, but I need to put her up twice because I like her so much. I’m currently reading Shores of Darkness, a book of ‘wicked wit and energy’ set in England in the last days of the Stuart dynasty. She combines the politics of the time so beautifully with the personal stories. Unfortunately Diana Norman died earlier this year, so there will be no more.

Jo Nesbo – the Harry Hole series. Nesbo is a Norwegian crime writer who has recently been translated into English. His hero Harry Hole is fallible and appealing, and the books are one of the best crime series around. Unfortunately they seem to have been translated out of sequence, so it’s easy to read them in the wrong order. But because there’s a story that runs through several books, it’s well worth reading them in order (if you can work out what it is). The Redbreast is probably a good place to start.

Ariana Franklin, Mistress of the Art of Death. A twelfth-century heroine with an interest in forensic medicine, a crackling good mystery and wonderful writing. This is the first in a series that I highly recommend. I don’t like most mediaeval mysteries, but I love these. ‘Ariana Franklin’ is the nom-de-plume of Diana Norman, whose Taking Liberties I have just read and loved. She is a terrific writer under either name, with a particular interest in the conditions under which women lived, worked and loved in historical times.

Helen Simonson, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. An exquisite and drily humorous story about an unlikely hero and a second chance at love. This was recommended to me by a bunch of librarians and booksellers in the US, and it’s a beautifully written love story.

Patrick O’Brian – the Aubrey/Maturin series, starting with Master and Commander. Blood and thunder, exploration, music, language, conversation, spying and humour on a man-of-war during the Napoleonic wars. Wonderful. One of those series that gets you totally addicted. A bit like Hornblower only funnier.

Dorothy Dunnett – the Lymond saga, starting with The Game of Kings and the House of Niccolo series, starting with Niccolo Rising. These are ‘what-would-you-take-to-a-desert-island’ books, the sort that you can re-read a dozen times and find something new in them every time. Full of devious works, passionate characters, total disregard for life and limb, grand schemes, tragedies and heroics.

Diana Gabaldon, Cross Stitch – I think this had a different title in the US, but don’t know what it was. It’s the first in a terrific time-travel series. Claire Randall, on holiday with her husband just after the Second World War, walks through a stone circle in the Scottish Highlands into a violent skirmish taking place in 1743. Romance, humour, and some classy bodice-ripping.

Winston Graham’s Poldark series, set in Cornwall in the late 1700s. These have been around for a while, but they are well worth a read. The first is Ross Poldark, and tells the story of a man who returns from fighting in America to find that the girl he intended to marry is engaged to his cousin, his father is dead and his estates derelict.

Lois Mcmaster Bujold – start with Shards of Honour, the first book in the highly addictive Vorkosigan saga, space opera in the grand manner.

Elizabeth Moon – more space opera, which is a favourite of mine when it is well written. She’s got two series that I like. One begins with Hunting Party, and the other with Trading in Danger.

Christopher Brookmyre – subversive and hilarious Scottish thrillers. They’re all pretty good, but my favourites are probably The Sacred Art of Stealing and Be My Enemy.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Pashazade – first in the Arabesk series. The murder of an imperious North African noblewoman upsets the marriage plans of her nephew, who becomes the prime suspect. Gritty realism mixed with alternate reality.

Emma Bull, War for the Oaks – one of the novels that has defined modern urban fantasy. Eddi McCandry sings rock and roll. But her boyfriend just dumped her, her band just broke up, and life could hardly be worse. Then, walking home through downtown Minneapolis on a dark night, she finds herself drafted into an invisible war between the faerie folk.

Connie Willis, Domesday Book – human struggle and redemption set in the time of the Black Plague. A stunning book that haunted me for a long time. To Say Nothing of the Dog is also good, but much more light-hearted. She’s got a new one, Blackout, that I haven’t read yet.

Mark Helprin, A Soldier of the Great War – a book that stayed with me for ages after I finished it. Beautifully written, deeply moving, written from the pov of an Italian soldier during the First World War. Reminds me of Dunnett, and I suspect I will re-read it many times.

Barbara Hambly, Bride of the Rat God – this is one of my favourites from an author who writes terrific fantasy as well as historical crime. The latter series starts with A Free Man of Color. She’s great. Read her.