“So, what do you want to do in the future Becky?” Umm…anything to do with books! Recently I have put my serious thinking hat on about what I might want my career and future to look like. When faced with the largest, scariest, open-ended questions such as ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ – honestly, I had (& have) no clue to the answer. But, on reflection, I am more and more leaning towards the publishing industry, (and my reasons why are for a whole new blog post!). However, in order to determine whether it is for me, I decided to write a few posts here on my blog to explore my interest- and to share it with all of you. The following list is the ultimate book recommendation list from every fiction genre. The books listed below I have either read, want to read or my friends and family have read and have thought were great. They are also a mixture of old and new publications. Finally, this is part 1 (as otherwise it would be an incredibly long post!) – parts 2 & 3 are to follow, with genres arranged in alphabetical order.
Disclaimer: The links to the book listed, are Amazon affiliate links – so if you are inspired and decide to buy anything, I benefit a little too. We’re sharing the love! …
But, without further ado: ENJOY!
Action and Adventure
These books tend to lend themselves to making the foundation of great movies. The protagonist most likely follows a Hero’s Journey: where they are set a quest/mission and go on a journey. They will then undertake trials of some kind, whether physical or mental and then return ‘home’ or end up in a new, and better place. Their often fast-paced, dangerous nature means they appeal to people who don’t want to spend hours admiring writer’s prosaic writing style and instead want a gripping plotline.
1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (2005)
This book combines murder mystery, family saga, high adventure and financial intrigue. “Harriet Vanger, a scion of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families disappeared over forty years ago; and all these years later, her aged uncle continues to seek the truth. He hires Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist recently trapped by a libel conviction, to investigate. He is aided by the pierced and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander.” Together they must find the teenage heiress. Whilst it starts out simple, the plot gradually morphs into a tale of serial murder and corporate trickery spanning several continents. (TW: violence against women and children).
2. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (1988)
This book is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried near the Pyramids. On his journey he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself King, and an alchemist all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. But will Santiago be able to overcome his obstacles, both physically and mentally? I have been recommended this book on several different occasions, but I have also heard it is a little ‘marmity’, but worth starting at least to find out if it is for you.
3. Around The World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne (1873)
Phileas Fogg of London and his newly employed French valet Passepartout attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days on a £20,000 wager set by his friends at the Reform Club. Around the World in Eighty Days combines adventure, travel and exploration, and a race against time. What is also useful to remember is that travel of this magnitude was not only uncommon during the 1800’s, but also very difficult and expensive. These facts would have made the adventure even more exciting for readers, as they were also ‘travelling’ to entirely new places too.
4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
Often regarded as one of Bradbury’s best works, and a classic by many literary critics: it tells of a society where books are outlawed, and ‘firemen’ burn any that are found. The forbidden, dangerous book is the most illegal commodity, and using the vehicle of a book, Bradbury’s message is that if our society wants to survive and thrive, people must be encouraged to wrestle with ideas. He “indicts a society that puts all its emphasis on providing people with a superficial sense of happiness.” I’m ashamed to say, I haven’t read this book yet – but I feel like I really should, and you should too…
Okay, just take this genre with a pinch of salt. Whilst they are all brilliant works of fiction and have been deemed ‘classics’ – we must always be aware of the prejudices and limitations which are attached to canonical works. The ‘world’s greatest works’ have been chosen by and include a lot of white, male, cis-gendered & privileged writers. Today, ‘the’ canon is expanding and becoming more inclusive; featuring voices who have been previously marginalised- which is a definite step in the right direction. But little disclaimer aside, what constitutes a ‘classic’ to me is a novel that has truly stood the test of time, (or will do in the future) and provides an important moral, political or social commentary that everyone today can still benefit from. Classics are often also called or are included within the genre, ‘Literary fiction’, which are works which are considered to be of very high artistic value.
1. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
This is one of my all-time favourite books. Du Maurier’s Gothic thriller/mystery revolves around an unnamed protagonist who marries a wealthy widower, Maxim De Winter and discovers that both he and the household are haunted by the memory of his first wife, Rebecca. Du Maurier expertly explores the vehicles of the gothic to show how identity manifests itself as vulnerable to change, open to manipulation and a key part of a person’s selfhood. The discussion of identity is just one of the many themes that Du Maurier touches on through her elegant writing style.
2. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)
I recently finished this novel, and you can find a full review here: https://lifeofbeckyc.com/2021/02/07/book-review-crime-and-punishment-dostoevsky/ But, Dostoyevsky’s story is about a man called Raskolnikov and his psychological journey after he commits a terrible crime. Raskolnikov’s philosophical musings throughout the novel not only allow us a glimpse into his psyche, but also how to portray a mind in literature. It is a slow-burning thriller/mystery which has a strong character focus, which adds great depth to the story.
3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)
Young, mischievous Pip, tender Joe and officious Mrs Gargery feature at the beginning, and throughout this Victorian Bildungsroman (coming-of-age). Pip then encounters Miss Havisham and Estella and his life changes forever. Now in London and more grown up, Pip must navigate the world of business and industry, whilst remaining forever connected to relationships from his childhood. These connections from his past have profound impacts and change his perspective on life altogether.
4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1816)
Shelley’s nightmare creation gave birth to a novel which will forever be a potent reminder of the consequences of man creating life which then possesses an independent conscience. Whilst the creature is usually deemed the villain due to the crimes he commits against mankind, Victor Frankenstein himself is troubled and deeply flawed. This book is a profound expose on the monstrous vs the human, the role of women, science vs religion and what exactly constitutes a being.
This is almost miscellaneous fiction; but it usually applies to books which take place in the present day. But in its most basic form, contemporary fiction is better understood as the absence of genre. These books may contain aspects of other genres, but they tend to bridge multiple characteristics. Often, they don’t need tropes and limitations, as their tensions and drama lie in the quirks and everyday events of the protagonist’s life. They encompass work, politics, relationships, and the general struggles of modern society.
1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (2017)
A tale about loneliness and making your way in the world. Eleanor Oliphant is a social misfit with a traumatic past who becomes enamoured with a singer, with whom she believes she is destined to be with, whilst balancing everyday life. I laughed, I cried. I was angry. I was surprised. I was emphatic. I was completely fine, sometimes. The memorable characters, relationships and situations make for a powerful book, just don’t expect to read it, and not feel something.
2. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (2018)
The known ‘Marsh Girl’ aka Kya Clark lives barefoot and wild, ‘unfit’ for polite society, battling a complex family life. In late 1969, when the popular Chase Andrews is found dead, locals immediately suspect her. But this book is much more than just a murder-mystery, as Owen juxtaposes an exquisite ode to the natural world against a powerful coming-of-age narrative. It is poetic, thought provoking and deeply moving. It was one of my top 2 reads of last year, and I would highly recommend.
3. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (2021)
Ishiguro is back at it again… The novel tells the story of Klara, an artificial friend (AF) who has outstanding observational qualities. It follows her journey from wanting to be chosen in the store, to finding a family and dealing with the complexities that it brings. Ishiguro’s ability to employ a familiar, yet surprising dystopian style is arguably unmatched. The first-person narrative through the eyes of Klara herself, provide a refreshing take on not only AI, but what exactly foundational ‘human’ principles are.
4. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (2019)
A striking debut about race and privilege. The book is focused on a young black babysitter called Emira Tucker and her boss, come friend, Alix Chamberlain. Whilst the two women couldn’t be more different on the surface; Emira a lost, financially struggling 20-year-old and Alix a woman, a mother, with her sh*t together, who built a brand around making women feel confident – they are much more alike than they both think. When Emira gets accused of kidnapping Alix’s daughter in a supermarket, both their lives are changed forever. I devoured this book, it is SO well written and its empathic, piercing social commentary is well blended with the engaging plot, so you never feel like Reid is blatantly trying to make a point about issues at hand.
A popular sub-genre of science fiction; these books portray worlds that readers hope do not happen but could imagine that they might. Think Black-Mirror or the Hunger Games. The appeal of dystopian fiction is our attraction to dark storytelling and gaining an insight into where humanity might go, as long as it’s not us that is living that reality…
1. 1984 by George Orwell (1949)
Perhaps the novel that comes to mind when people think of dystopian fiction, and there is a good reason for that. It follows the life of Winston Smith, “a low ranking member of ‘the Party’, who is frustrated by the omnipresent eyes of the party, and its ominous ruler Big Brother”. Orwell is a master on drawing on aspects of society which could very possibly be true (the epitome of what dystopia does). It is written in 1949 but imagines a society 35 years+ into the future – a ‘future’ we have already lived through.
2. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
You may have seen the brilliant TV show adaptation, and it is safe to say the book doesn’t disappoint either. A novel where women’s bodies are the battle ground between an oppressive regime and an underground rebellion. It is powerful, harrowing and scarily real. There is a sequel, called The Testaments, but personally this one is much better.
3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
A linguistic adventure. “I see what is right and approve, but I do what is wrong.” Alex is a 15-year-old ‘droog’ member & serves out ‘ultra-violence’. His narration tells of his experiences with the state authorities intent on ‘reforming’ him. This book is short, but definitely not sweet. It contains scary stuff, but pertinent, nonetheless.
4. Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam (2021)
“A magnetic novel about two families, strangers to each other, who are forced together on a long weekend gone terribly wrong.” The FT says, ‘For the reader, the invisible terror outside in Leave the World Behind echoes the sense of disquiet today in a world convulsed by the pandemic’. Looking forward to reading this one…
This is a genre that I haven’t read much from, but I’m interested in learning from others what their favourite books are and why. Fantasy is characterised by the supernatural, otherworldly and is often inspired by mythology and folklore. For many, the appeal of fantasy is pure escapism, to travel to a world unlike ours in any, or very little ways. The few good fantasy books I’ve read have carefully created an entirely fictional world that is grounded by rules, so at least you can understand the world you find yourself in.
1. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (2019)
“A world divided. A queendom without an heir. An ancient enemy awakens.” It is an enthralling epic saga about a “world on the brink of war with dragons – and women must lead the fight to save it.” At 848 pages, this book is looong. But with its length, comes complete world building and rich characters. I’ve heard from friends you have to stick with it, (as it drags a little because of its length) but it is well worth persevering. Not only for the plot, but also for the discussion on the division between different religions, cultures, and sexualities.
2. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (2011)
An epic Greek romantic adventure. Miller expertly retells and adapts the story of Patroclus and Achilles in The Iliad. You are transported back in time to the tenth year of the Trojan War, surrounded by Gods and Goddesses. No prior classical knowledge is required as Miller brilliantly explains/touches on everything you need to know to understand the story. It is beautifully written, as the fusion between classical details and poetic description makes this heart wrenching story sing.
Find a more detailed review in this blog post: https://lifeofbeckyc.com/2021/04/18/favourite-reads-so-far-this-year/
3. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas (2015)
The first book in the five-book series, with the fifth book A Court of Silver Flames, released this year. The story revolves around the journey of mortal Feyre Archeron after she is brought into the faerie lands of Prythian by Tamlin, one of the lethal faeries, for retribution for her murder of another faerie. Yet Tamlin’s feelings change toward Feyre – from icy coldness to a fiery passion. But “an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it…or doom Tamlin – and his world – forever.”
4. (The Chronicles of Narnia) The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950)
Narnia, the land beyond the wardrobe. Fall in love with Lucy, Edmund, Peter and Susan as one by one they discover a whole new world. But this world is under the control of the white witch, and they must help the Lion Aslan to free Narnia from the witch’s spell once and for all. It really is a story for everyone – although deemed for children, Lewis’ endless layers of complexity including those of Christian allegory make this accessible on multiple different levels of understanding.