“Your top books of all time, you say?”
“The ones that resonate with me, have stayed with me in spite of the fact that I’ve read a gazillion?”
Yes. That’s the very question we asked a whole bunch of friends of LoveReading.
How many times have we seen these lists over the years?
Lots, but here’s the thing. We feel that so many of the books included are there because the editors believe they have to be. They are there as you can’t possibly have a “best books of all time” list without them.
We don’t think that. The whole point of this LoveReading Best Books of all Time list is that we asked more than 50 of our closest friends to choose their top 5 books of all time precisely to create something unique, something different, to inspire people to read the books our book-loving friends have adored.
And rather than the same books coming up again and again, we’ve got some inspirational reads we’re sure you’ll be dying to get stuck into.
It wasn't an easy task for our contributors:
“This list was so difficult to compile it might as well be written in blood!”
"That sounds fun and also terrible. Just 5? Oh boy."
"It's HARD! Like asking who your favourite child is!!"
But they were up to the task and we have a wonderful list of books for your enjoyment. Most of our contributors chose books they have read again and again, that have stood the test of time. Some classics, some faves, some old and new but a lot I haven't read and I for one can't wait to read these beauties.
Huge thanks to everyone who contributed. This was a blast.
Best Books of all Time - Titles you HAVE to read in your lifetime.
, Anne O'Brien
, Cathy Glass
, Elizabeth Buchan
, Fiona Harper
, Joanna Barnard
, Louise Beech
, Nicola Cornick
, Roz Watkins
, Shirley McKay
, Vanessa Tait
, West Camel
, Sarah Morgan
, Veronica Henry
, Fiona Veitch Smith
, Rachel Edwards
, Alison Flood
, Andrew Taylor
, Charlotte Walker
, C.J. Skuse
, Jane Fallon
, Fionnuala Kearney
, Jane Corry
, Jean Fullerton
, Joanne Owen
, Johana Gustawsson
, Liese O’Halloran Schwarz
, Liz Fenwick
, Liz Robinson
, Sandra Ireland
, Marnie Riches
, Matt Johnson
, Maxim Jakobowski
, Paul Burston
, Penny Parkes
, Victoria Goldman
, Carmen Marcus
, Laura Elliott
, Vicky-Leigh Sayer
, Kerry Bridges
, Noemi Proietti
, Linda Hill
, Rachel Bridgeman
, Sara-Jade Virtue
, Bianca Trent
, Stacy Walton
, Emma Welton
, Tamason Gamble
, Kenneth B. Andersen
, Holly Seddon
, Anstey Harris
, Claire Fuller
, Julie Cohen
, Carol Drinkwater
Abi Elphinstone is the author of Sky Song and The Dreamsnatcher Trilogy. Her next book, Everdark, is a World Book Day book and the first adventure in The Unmapped Chronicles.
- The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis - My favourite moment in all literature is when Lucy Pevensie pushes open a wardrobe door to discover a snow-filled Narnian forest on the other side; it taught me to believe in impossible, unlikely and even magical things.
- Northern Lights by Philip Pullman - This was a defining book for me as a child because not only was I was enthralled by the story – by the alethiometer, the daemons, the witches and Lee Scoresby’s hot air balloon – but I was fundamentally changed by Lyra Belacqua who showed me that girls can be just as brave as boys, adults and even armoured polar bears.
- The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy - I adored the heroine of this story, Mildred Hubble, because she’s clumsy, knotty-haired and always getting into trouble at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches but she’s also fiercely brave and loyal to her friends.
- The BFG by Road Dahl - I’m dyslexic and sometimes that means I get my words muddled up - I loved the Big Friendly Giant as a child because he was forever getting his words in a pickle.
- The Mennyms by Sylvia Waugh - The characters in this book are rag dolls and they made me question, every single night when I was a child, whether my teddies, dolls and toys might, in fact, be real.
Sunday Times Bestselling Author, writing about the dynamic and influential women of medieval England, has sold over 600,000 copies of her novels internationally. Today she lives in the Welsh Marches.
Books that set my feet on the path to writing historical fiction.
- The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart - I lost myself completely in this unusual retelling of the story of King Arthur. Skilfully weaving together history and legend, I watched a mystical Merlin grow from child to adult, as he came to uncomfortable terms with his talents. With treachery and infidelity on all sides, I followed the events leading to the fateful birth of Arthur, appreciating the inter-weaving of realism and magic, all with the lightest of touches.
- The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey - A classic of its kind: an investigation into a spectacular ‘cold case’ – no other than the bloody deeds of King Richard III - by a bored detective inspector laid up with a broken leg. Short, sharp and unemotional, this novel is the perfect example of how to use historical evidence in a contemporary novel. What’s more, although I am no fervent Ricardian, it certainly convinced me that Richard III could not possibly have murdered his nephews in the Tower. It fired my desire to uncover the past and use it in a compelling story.
- The King Must Die by Mary Renault - The legend of Theseus, brought to life with the dread Minator, half man and half bull, and the bull leaping dance from the ancient frescoes of the Cretan palace of Knossos. Here is a world of violence and passion as Theseus defies the gods to claim his inheritance, the throne of Athens. The power of the story gripped me, Ancient History coming alive on every page.
- Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklyn - How I enjoyed this adventure, stuffed with humour, romance, tragedy and carefully applied historical detail of the reign of King Henry II. Adelia Aguilar, a woman incongruously trained as a doctor with a speciality is the study of corpses, is engaged in investigating the murder of a child in 12th century Cambridge with its castle and convents, and the teeming life of the fens. How clever was the author, to draw the reader in to a fast moving story with all the pace I could wish for, as if the events were happening today.
- The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett - Introducing the enigmatic Frances Crawford of Lymond. Hero or villain? All is revealed against the backdrop of war-torn 16th century Scotland. Excitement, romance, betrayal, despair, grief, it has it all, supported by the edgy politics of the day. This was the one book, more than any other, that encouraged me to start writing historical fiction. It took my breath away with its scope, its depth of characterisation and the sheer skill shown in manipulating both the characters and the readers to come to terms with its uneasy hero. It was, and still is, for me a tour de force.
Cathy Glass is the author of thirty-two books many of which have become international bestsellers. Much of her inspiration for her writing comes from having been a foster carer for twenty five years. She has three children of her own who are young adults now, and was awarded a degree in education and psychology as a mature student. She also writes thrillers using the pen name Lisa Stone.
Being asked for my Top 5 books really got me thinking.
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, for its dark, macabre but utterly compelling passion.
- Emma by Jane Austen. Good people do bad things sometimes. How could you not identify with Emma’s flippant and unintentional hurtful comment to Miss Bates at the Box Hill picnic? I cringe every time I read it.
- Lady Chatterley's Lover by D H Lawrence for bravely challenging the stifling morality of its time.
- Clarissa by Samuel Richardson. One of the longest novels ever written – over a million words. Published in 1748 it is as tragic and distressing now as it was then, and shows a psychological insight far beyond its time.
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Only a novella in length but as popular today as it was when it was written over 150 years ago. Its powerful message for me is that making amends for our wrong doings and striving to lead a better life is always possible.
Elizabeth Buchan began her career as a blurb writer at Penguin Books after graduating from the University of Kent with a double degree in English and History. She moved on to become a fiction editor at Random House before leaving to write full-time. Her novels include the award-winning Consider the Lily and the international bestseller, Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman, which was made into a CBS Primetime Drama. Later novels included Daughters, I Can’t Begin to Tell You, a story of SOE agents and resistance in wartime Denmark and The New Mrs Clifton which is set in London and Berlin in 1945. Her latest, The Museum of Broken Promises, will be published in September 2019.
Elizabeth Buchan’s short stories are broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and published in magazines. She has reviewed for The Times, the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail, and has chaired the Betty Trask and Desmond Elliot literary prizes. She has been a judge for the Whitbread First Novel Award and for the 2014 Costa Novel Award. She is a patron of the Guildford Book Festival and co-founder of the Clapham Book Festival.
- Footsteps by Richard Holmes - Part biography, part autobiography, the account of how the author began as a poet and ended up tracking down his subjects – Mary Wollstencraft, Wordsworth, Shelley among them - as a newly minted biographer in superbly written, poetic exploration of self and subject.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë - Unmatched for its passion and daring, its depiction of the ‘poor and plain’ eponymous heroine asserting her right to be treated as an equal by the rich and powerful Mr Rochester is threaded through with gothic thrills, an eroticism and a great love story.
- Atonement by Ian McEwen - Fourteen-year old Briony commits a crime which turns her sister’s life upside down and spends her life atoning for it. Out of this material is spun a rich, complex, tragic story which explores war and guilt and debates what powers a writer possesses to manipulate his material.
- The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton - A forensic novel of the manners and mores of late-nineteenth century New York society when men and women are trapped in the gin-trap of convention. Full of ironies – America is supposed to be the land of the free - it is a brilliantly executed lesson in how a culture can become suffocating.
- Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain - Writing after the events, Vera Brittain nevertheless encapsulates the trauma and pain of a young, intellectually ambitious woman living through the first world war and, having lost her friends, brother and fiancée, how she struggled in the aftermath. ‘Never again’ is the message – as if we need reminding.
Fiona Harper is an award-winning author of more than twenty-five novels. She writes uplifting romantic stories and heartfelt women’s fiction for HQ, an imprint of Harper Collins.
- The Bible – I’ve been reading this for over thirty years and I doubt I’ll stop. Wisdom, faith, poetry, history, inspiration, death, betrayal and sex. What’s not to like?
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – I first fell in love with this book at the age of thirteen and it’s probably the fiction book I’ve re-read the most times. I love Jane’s personality and spirit.
- I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – another book with a strong female voice at its core. A witty and wise coming-of-age story.
- Tender as the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I love Fitzgerald’s writing, especially his flawless description of people and things, but this tale of an unlikely survivor from the death of a relationship is my favourite.
- Me Before You by Jojo Moyes – a book that made me both laugh very hard and ‘ugly cry’ through the final chapters. Combining humour and gut-ripping emotion so seamlessly is no mean feat.
Joanna won the Bath Novel Award in 2014 and her novels Precocious and Hush Little Baby are published by Ebury. Joanna is also a counsellor, editor and writing workshop leader.
- Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov - the classic unreliable narrator. Breathtakingly beautiful prose and tragicomic brilliance. Blindsided me when I first read it, aged 17. (Probably the reason I wrote Precocious - I was nagged by the question "What would Lolita's version of the story be?")
- The World According to Garp by John Irving - everything that's great about Irving is in this book. Wonderfully labyrinthine storytelling, vibrant characters, pulls on the heartstrings. Modern-day Dickens. (Also I read that Irving starts all his books at the end, which as a "pantser" I find fascinating!)
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - a more recent book that will always stay with me. Startlingly original and incredibly moving.
- The Secret History by Donna Tartt - a bit of a "Marmite" book but I devoured it. Unlikeable characters and foul deeds wrapped up in mesmerising writing.
- Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty - one of those books that has a genuine "jaw drop" moment. Has important things to say about women and sexuality, and Doughty writes searingly well about emotion and motivation.
Louise has been writing since she could physically hold a pen. It’s her safe place; where she escapes and finds therapy and joy. But it took ten years, four novels, and a few tears to finally get the dreamed-for book deal. Louise’s debut, How to be Brave, was published in 2015. It was a Guardian Readers’ Pick. The Mountain in my Shoe followed, and then Maria in the Moon, which the Sunday Mirror called ‘quirky, darkly comic and heartfelt.’ The Lion Tamer Who Lost is now out and is a Love Reading Star Book. Call Me Star Girl is out in April 2019.
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - When I read it ten years ago, this book made me literally forget where I was. I got lost in a dramatic scene close to the end of the novel and when I looked up and saw my own living room, for a few seconds I was confused to be there and not in a German town, during the war. That moment has stayed with me ever since. Powerful stuff.
- The World According To Garp by John Irving - When I read this one over ten years ago, it made me open a Word document and start writing a novel. The beauty, power, and incomparable quirkiness of this special book inspired me to do what I’d always wanted to do. John Irving has a voice like no other. It made me want to find mine. So how can it not be on my list?
- Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell - I first read this in my 20s after my granny lent me it, and it has become one that I read once every few years. What a character Scarlett O’Hara is – passionate, strong, selfish, and loyal. A woman ahead of her time. Everyone remembers those famous final lines, but this book has my favourite first line in it. Go and read it. You won’t stop.
- Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe by Anthony Summers - This biography was huge back in the mid 1980s and was the first book I read about my idol Marilyn Monroe when I was about 15. It’s meticulously researched, passionately written, and utterly gripping; a masterpiece. You’ll question everything you thought about her by the end, and you’ll not dismiss her death as suicide.
- What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge - This is a childhood favourite. I even named my daughter after her. I loved the whole series. I felt I was just like Katy Carr – mischievous, wilful, and a daydreamer.
Nicola Cornick is an international bestselling and award-winning writer who has written over thirty historical novels in a career spanning twenty years. She is the current chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association UK.
- Persuasion by Jane Austen - a subtle and poignant novel full of the complexities of human emotion.
- Mist Over Pendle by Robert Neill - The quintessential historical novel.
- I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith - A great coming of age novel that is both funny and thought-provoking.
- Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier - rich, evocative and exciting.
- The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey - classic crime and hugely influential
Roz Watkins is the author of The Devil’s Dice, which is set in the Peak District where Roz lives with her partner and a menagerie of demanding animals.
- Falling by Colin Thubron. I first read this very special book many years ago, and it stayed with me. It’s beautifully written, poignant, haunting, and quietly devastating.
- So Much for That by Lionel Shriver. I love all Lionel Shriver’s writing and of course she’s best known for Kevin. But I especially like this book, for its characterisation, dark irony, and social commentary.
- Vernon God Little by D.B.C. Pierre. Every page of this book had me howling with laughter. Vernon has such a unique turn of phrase, I could read him all day.
- Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller. You just can’t stop reading, even as you know she’s going to rip your heart out and leave it bleeding on the floor. The hideous Barbara is one of my favourite ever narrators.
- We are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. It’s best not to read any reviews of this incredible book, to fully enjoy the gut-punch of a mid-story twist. I’m saying nothing more!
Shirley McKay is the author of the Hew Cullan series, set in St. Andrews at the time of James VI, and the forthcoming thriller Black Drop, set in Edinburgh c.1820.
- A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson - As a small child I loved rhyming verse. My mother was a district nurse, and when I was six she took me on a visit to an old man who was dying, unperturbed and patient, in a huge brass bed. His wife gave me a glass of lemonade, and he gave me his childhood copy of Stevenson’s Garden of Verses. It resonates with me for its combination of imagination with security in childhood, which brings comfort still – the safety of complete immersion, anchored in a book. My favourites were ‘The Lamplighter’ and ‘The Land of Counterpane.’
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain - Not for the novel as a whole – Huckleberry Finn is perhaps more interesting – but solely for the scene where Tom eavesdrops on his own funeral, which delighted me as a child, and is one of the most memorable in literature. Who would not delight in this?
- The Once and Future King by T. E. White - I read this as a young teenager and devoured it – I have a conscious recollection of slowing down the pace because I could not bear to have the story end. I felt bereft when it did – the desolation of a place where a book has been (I rarely feel it now). And on the back of it, I wrestled through Le Morte D’Arthur, in vain hope of a glimpse of Camelot.
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - Has simply the best plot of any book ever written (with all the other joys of Dickens too). I feel excited, still, for anyone who reads this for the first time and hasn’t come across the story.
- The Service of Clouds by Susan Hill - As a teenager I read the (terrifying) I’m the King of the Castle and ‘A bit of Singing and Dancing’ and have admired Susan Hill ever since, for the strength of human feeling she captures in her characters, as much as for the auras she creates. She writes so convincingly on isolation, loss, depths of grief and dignity, endurance and resilience, in such sparing prose, that her books can be painful to read. I read part of The Service of Clouds at Paddington Station, so deeply moved I completely forgot where I was. Which is what reading should be about. Along with A Kind Man - the title is just perfect - this is my favourite of her books.
Vanessa is a writer and new puppy owner. Her last book, The Pharmacist’s Wife is set in Victorian Edinburgh and deals in female empowerment - and drugs.
- Commonwealth by Anne Patchett. The ease of the read belies the complexity of the work and the wheeling plot. I have this book on my desk as I write to remind myself see how it should be done.
- Fingersmith by Sarah Walters. The invention and energy and cascading detail of this book gives me goosebumps.
- A Want of Kindness by Joanne Limberg. I love historical fiction and this one about Queen Anne (of The Favourite fame) sheds an intensely personal light on her struggles.
- The Past by Tessa Hadley. Her writing is just so psychologically insightful and this one about families and secrets is her best.
- My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout for the moment by moment depiction of experienced life. And her awful mother!
West Camel is currently editor at Orenda Books, editor of The Riveter magazine and reviews editor for the European Literature Network. His debut novel, Attend was published in December 2018.
- The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio - This is the ultimate short-story collection: one hundred stories, covering romance, comedy, adventure, morality, and much more, plus a framing narrative that sweeps you back to Renaissance Florence. Written in the fourteenth century, it both looks back at medieval Europe, and lays the groundwork for modern literature. It is intimate, still relevant and most of all a virtuoso literary performance. The book’s structure is itself a masterpiece: when the Black Death hits Florence, ten elegant young people escape the city and wait out the plague in a series of countryside villas. Over ten days they tell a story each, making a hundred stories in total, and in between they eat, dance, relax. And you can’t imagine a better existence.
- The Waves by Virginia Woolf - Woolf’s most experimental work, The Waves takes the stream-of-consciousness technique to new heights, combining ‘soliloquies’ from six different characters, and tracing their lives from childhood to death. It is a challenging, but intensely rewarding experience and, to me, the apogee of Woolf’s achievement, the work that truly redefined the novel. But for all its difficulty, it remains hugely readable. Woolf’s prose is smooth, personal, comprehensible and, above all, human.
- Beloved by Toni Morrison - There’s a reason Morrison won the Nobel Prize, and that reason is Beloved. Morrison deals with the atrocities of slavery in America through what at first appears to be a ghost story. Morrison’s genius is to use the genre’s tropes to examine and explore the spectre haunting America to this day, as those famous opening sentences – ‘124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom’ – suggest. Beloved is a shocking historical document, a glorious piece of writing and a devastating work of art.
- The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster - These three ‘detective’ (I use the quotes advisedly) novellas were published separately, but are now always collected together. And for good reason, for in my view, they appear to tell the same story in three different and evermore intriguing ways. Open to endless interpretation, the three novellas follow detectives, PIs and writers investigating cases that seem to amount to nothing while losing their identities and finding new ones, all against the backdrop of a curiously dreamlike New York. With shades of Kafka and Chandler, for me this isn’t three books, it’s one incredibly original, mould-breaking novel.
- The Wind-up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami - Entering the world of Murakami, you must put aside all your expectations about traditional plots, resolutions and explanations. But while this place is confusing, strange, often disturbing and occasionally horrific, it’s also incredibly everyday. And while The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is probably the most confusing, strange and horrific example of Murakami’s novels, it’s also an everyday tale of a man at a moment of uncertainty in his life. What is masterful is the way the surreal, dreamlike scenes and loose plot threads are so tightly controlled. A massive achievement.
Sarah Morgan writes contemporary women’s fiction. She is a Sunday Times and USA Today bestselling author and has sold over 16 million copies of her books worldwide. She lives near London with her family.
- Matilda by Roald Dahl – Roald Dahl writes great female characters and Matilda is one of his best - fiercely brave, kind and a book lover.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – Elizabeth Bennett is one of my favourite heroines. She’s strong, witty, and Austen really makes her work for her happy ending.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – full of wisdom and moral complexity
- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – a beautiful and vivid story of love and loss.
- Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare – I love romantic comedy, and this is one of the best.
Veronica Henry is the author of nineteen bestselling novels - her twentieth will be published by Orion in the summer. She began her career as a script typist on 'The Archers' and went on to write for some of our best loved dramas including Heartbeat and Holby City. She lives by the sea in North Devon and has three sons.
- Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain - I was blown away when my brother gave me a copy of this when it first came out. Swashbuckling gastro-adventures, it is shocking and charming in equal measure. I've given it to each of my three boys to inspire them to follow their dreams and live life to the full; to be passionate.
- Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann - The original blockbuster following the lives of three women in 1960s New York and Hollywood who become lifelong friends, this is a must-read for any fan of commercial fiction. The characters are so true to life yet also larger than life, the plotting is masterful and you can't help but keep turning the page. I read this again and again.
- The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates - Short but sweet, this charming book brings all your senses alive with its description. The colourful Larkin family are brought to life so vividly, you just want to move in with them. You can almost smell the strawberries in the strawberry-picking scene.
- Time after Time by Molly Keane - Molly Keane is my writing hero. Her deadly wit and beady-eyed perspicacity are second to none in this tale of sibling rivalry in a tumble-down mansion in Southern Ireland. I hope one day to write half as well.
- Riders by Jilly Cooper - Probably my greatest inspiration, Jilly's huge heart and wicked humour spill onto every page in this labyrinthine romp of hot-blooded japes, broken hearts and bedroom scenes that will bring a blush to your cheeks. And that's before you even enter the stables!
Fiona Veitch Smith is the author of the Poppy Denby Investigates series, murder mysteries set in the 1920s. The Jazz Files was shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger award in 2016. Her latest book, The Cairo Brief, has been shortlisted for the People’s Book Prize . For more on the series visit poppydenby.com.
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad - This dark, depressing and challenging critique of colonialism and the human condition has been highly influential in storytelling since it was first published in 1902. From films such as ‘Apocalypse Now’ and Disney Pixar’s ‘Up!’, the influence of this novella on popular culture is profound. Oh, and it’s short and beautifully written. So you won’t be depressed for long…
- Watership Down by Richard Adams - This is my favourite book of all time. I first read it when my family was emigrating to South Africa when I was 10. It connected with me emotionally as I, like Fiver, Hazel and Friends, was going on an epic, frightening journey, leaving my ‘home’ behind. Beyond the personal, Adams’ insight into individuals threatened by social engineering and totalitarian leadership is as insightful as Orwell’s 1984 (but written with more hope and beauty).
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel - Yet another epic quest narrative where the psychological journey of the lead character is beautifully fused with his physical journey across the ocean in a lifeboat shared with a Bengal Tiger. This is the first – and only -- book I have re-read the minute I finished it, because the ending presented me with a new lens that I just had to try out the second time round.
- Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers - As the author of Golden Age-inspired murder mysteries, set in the 1920s, I have to include an author from my canon of influence. Sayers is my absolute favourite. I love the combination of murder mystery, wit and biting social commentary that you find in her books; something I try to emulate in my own. She is oft-overlooked in favour of Christie, which is a travesty. Gaudy Night is, in my opinion, the best in the Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane series.
- The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis - You might be surprised that I’ve included the first in the Didius Falco novels in my list of great books, but ‘greatness’ should not just be reserved for high literature. When I first read it I laughed out loud, delighting in the fusion of detective noir and Roman history. This is a great book which leads into a great series that has enriched my reading life for the last twenty years.
Rachel Edwards was born and raised in the UK by Jamaican and Nigerian parents. Her debut, Darling, ‘the first Brexit thriller’, charts the relationship between a black stepmum and her English stepdaughter.
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - A novel of great poetry and mystery, this classic of magic realism is an acknowledged masterpiece. I came across it in my late teens and it was unlike anything I had experienced before. I was overwhelmed with admiration.
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou - This book made a huge impression on my 12- or 13-year-old self. The heartbreaking, often shocking, beautifully rendered tale of Maya Angelou’s life is brimming with strength of character and spirit. Angelou has been a heroine to me ever since.
- Catch 22 by Joseph Heller - So funny, so brilliant, this stunning absurdist tale had me laughing, gasping and almost shouting at the page the first time I read it. Packed with infuriating obstacles and existential truths, it is must-read for all time, I’d say.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë - A classic of dark and powerful beauty. I ached as I read Jane’s story aged about 12; it stirred me. Moreover, my beautiful, leather-bound copy had been a gift that my late father let me choose for myself on our only trip to London together. I was introduced to the heaven that was Foyles; Jane Eyre is also a memento of that perfect day.
- The Sellout by Paul Beatty - For years I would have made my fifth choice L’Étranger by Albert Camus as it speaks so powerfully about the absurdity of the human condition. But this has been overtaken for me of late by the power, wit, guts and verve of Paul Beatty’s obliterating examination of race relations, The Sellout. This book blew me away as I read it, almost through my fingers. He really went there and that in itself was joyful and deeply important.
LoveReading Editorial Expert
As a child Alison used to read under the table during dinner and in the corners at family gatherings. Now she works on the books desk for LoveReading.co.uk, The Guardian, and review books (thrillers, mostly, but science fiction and fantasy when she can), including the Observer and the Sunday Times.
When she lived in London, her house was bursting at the seams with books; now she lives in Norway, it’s her e-reader which is overwhelmed with riches. She has two small children, and is loving re-reading favourites from her childhood with them.
My top five books of all time aren't necessarily the books I think are the best ever written; they're the books I come back to again and again, rereading them whenever I need comfort or inspiration.
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I don't know how many times I have read this on my own; I'm currently on the second read-out-loudathon with my second child, and I am still as enthralled and ensorcelled as ever. The ultimate fantasy story; a gateway to the world of magic.
- Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Every time I read this I am hoping for a happier ending; every time I read it I come away with something new. The younger me thought Scarlett was a fine heroine, beautiful and lively. Now I see her flaws more clearly, but I'm still in love with Rhett.
- Anything by Mary Stewart but in particular: Nine Coaches Waiting. A spirited heroine, a riff on Cinderella, a murder plot and a breathless escape and game of hide and seek in the French Alps. This is the perfect adventure story, and the perfect romance: Stewart's language is wonderfully evocative, and her heroine delightfully wry and intelligent.
- Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. This is the book which, read as a teenager, introduced me to the sheer power of language and to worlds outside my own. "There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it." Poetry.
- The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. I wait with bated breath for my daughter to start reading this incredible collection of stories about the battle against the Dark, which takes in a host of British myths, from Arthur to the Welsh legend of the Grey King, and which I can still recite segments of by heart: "When the Dark is rising, six shall turn it back..." Perfection.
Andrew Taylor is a crime and historical novelist whose 45-plus books include The Ashes of London and The American Boy. His awards include the CWA Diamond Dagger.
- The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope - This novel is an extraordinary indictment of greed, selfishness and the corrupting influence of money - and also a cracking good read.
- The Leopard by Guiseppe di Lampedusa - This is one of the books that made me a writer of historical fiction: a perfectly judged evocation of class and society in nineteenth-century Sicily at a time of political upheaval.
- The Code of the Woosters by P.G.Wodehouse - No top five books would be complete without a Wodehouse novel, and this one’s a comic classic by a great prose stylist. It’s also the first Wodehouse book I ever bought.
- Persuasion by Jane Austen - Austen’s last completed novel is witty, poignant and endlessly re-readable.
- Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf - Woolf was brilliantly innovative, and this quietly tragic modernist classic showcases her talent.
LoveReading Content Manager
Charlotte Walker is our very own Content Manager. She is a 24-year-old life long bookworm and Chionophile. She graduated with a first class degree in English Literature from the University of Chester (although you can't always tell from her spelling) and feels like the luckiest person in the world that her first "grown-up" job allows her to read, discuss and find out more about fantastic books all day long. She is also in the process of setting up her own blog with her reviews: motleyreviews.wordpress.com
- The Gemma Trilogy - A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing - by Libba Bray - It's a series of YA fiction that I read as a teen not really expecting much. They tore my heart out and stomped all over it and I've not found a book/books that have matched up to them yet. They have the same effect when I re-read them (so I can't do it too often!). I even chose my dissertation topic so I could write about them :)
- Rachel's Holiday by Marian Keyes - The first Marian Keyes book I read and I've never looked back - I love her.
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë - My sister's favourite book, and my favourite "classic". I love the raw emotion in it.
- And if the trilogy can count as one:
- 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher - I read this a year or so before the TV series came out (and I won't watch the TV series in case they've ruined it!) and I found it so intriguing. It's heart-wrenchingly sad but I when I finished the book I felt like if you cried at it you were missing the point (if that makes sense?). I've always been interested in psychology and why people do things, and I suppose (as the title suggests) there can be so many (sometimes small) reasons that can all add up.
- The Binding by Bridget Collins - I knew it was going to be good as soon as I read the synopsis but I didn't realise just quite how much I'd love it. It's such an amazing idea for a plot.
I'm realising coming up with this that I like books that take me by surprise. Honourable mentions to Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk and The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick and the many, many more I will think of as soon as I hit 'send'.
C.J. Skuse has written five YA novels as well as Sweetpea and In Bloom (adult crime). She is from Weston-super-Mare, Somerset and is a Senior Lecturer in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University.
- The Madolescents by Chrissie Glazebrook - This was the first book I read that spoke to the teenage Me and the wit really resonated. I knew it was the kind of book I wanted to write myself. Anarchic, teens in crisis, sexy bits, incredibly dark humour - it ticked all my naughty little boxes. It’s quite dated now but at the time I couldn’t understand why more people weren’t singing its praises. It was the exact sort of book I wanted to pick up when I went into a bookshop but I could find few others like it. So I had to write some instead…
- Mens Sana in Thingummy Doodah by Victoria Wood - Even now, nearly 30 years after publication, I read the scripts in this book and laugh out loud. I watch Victoria’s programmes all the time, have done since I was about seven years old, and I marvel at her genius writing, especially in dinnerladies. I once learned the entire script to her An Audience With… just to regale my family with my impression of her. She’s my absolute comedy hero. I was once told that my writing is like a “sick and twisted Victoria Wood” and I can honestly say I’ve never had a better compliment!
- The Beggar Bride by Gillian White - When I started writing seriously with a view to publication I was about 17 and there was a production of The Beggar Bride coming on the BBC so I challenged myself to read the whole book in the day before it came on TV and I then became obsessed with it. I read all Gillian White’s other novels after that, including other favourites Rich Deceiver and Mothertime, and she sent me two signed novels and some words of encouragement when I wrote to her which only deepened my need to write my own books. I think Gillian's work set a precedent for me to start thinking about characters who do very strange things but for good reasons. This kind of thinking has filtered into all of my own stories and I definitely have her to thank for that.
- The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte - It irritates me no end when the Brontes are mentioned but only Charlotte and Emily get a look in – Anne was WAY ahead of her time with this book about a woman who runs out on her alcoholic husband and takes refuge in an entirely new place for the sake of her little boy, but she rarely gets credit for it. Now don’t get me wrong – I love a good Wuthering as much as the next person and Jane Eyre is so yummy I could just bake her into a pie and eat her alive but Wildfell, for me, has the edge on both of them. It is just flawless, IMO.
- Kenneth Grahame: An Innocent in the Wild Wood by Alison Prince - My fifth and final place could have gone to The Wind in the Willows as it is the book I look at whenever I’m feeling a little bit done with the world, but instead I’d like to draw attention to this biography of KG written by author (and Trumpton creator) Alison Prince. I read this when I was eighteen. It really spoke to me as a young person scared of the big wide world and inspired me to take something of a literary pilgrimage to all Grahame’s former homes and haunts, including his grave in Oxford (which he might actually haunt). The constant refrain in the book is that Grahame found growing up scary too and that though he fitted into the starchy, Edwardian business world (he became secretary of the Bank of England) he was still very much a child at heart, an avid toy collector and pushed into marriage and responsibilities when he wasn't ready for them. I completely relate to all that – I left my own childhood behind a long time ago but I seem to yearn for it more and more as I get older. I should have stopped growing up at age seven. It all got a bit too real for my liking after that!
Jane Fallon is a former TV producer (This Life, Teachers). Her first novel, Getting Rid of Matthew, was published in 2007 and became a bestseller as have the subsequent 8. Her latest book Tell Me A Secret was out in January 2019.
- Puffball by Fay Weldon - When I first discovered Fay Weldon’s writing as a teenager I was blown away. I think I’d never realised books could be so conversational, so contemporary. This one is my favourite and was, I think, the second of hers I’d read. I remember thinking it felt shockingly modern. Reading Weldon’s books allowed me to think I might be able to fulfil my dream of becoming a novelist.
- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote - Again, it’s the conversational thing. The way the writing draws you in and relaxes you (which might sound like an odd thing to say given the subject matter – a quadruple murder in a small Kansas town). The first half of the book is what I love the most – before the murders, before anything much happens at all. It’s a portrayal of mundane everyday American in a small town, written in such intimate detail. It makes the crime appear even more shocking. It’s a beautiful and compelling piece of writing.
- The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë - I’ve always loved a strong heroine. I’ve never been a fan of books where the lead character is preoccupied with finding ‘the one’. Those women would bore me in real life so why would I want to spend time with them in a book? Even though I disapprove of a lot of my heroines’ actions I try to make them interesting feisty women who I could imagine being good company. Because if I don’t find them entertaining why would anyone else? And Helen Huntingdon is one of the best - fiercely independent, forging a life for herself away from her abusive husband.
- Bleak House by Charles Dickens - I did this for A level and it really kick started my love of Dickens. Before that I’d tended to skim his books, or think that I knew a work because I’d watched the film. But I realised it’s all about the language he uses. And the way he could see the ridiculousnesses in people: the pomposity, the self aggrandizement, the false humility. He was the ultimate social commentator.
- Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey - Fragmented, at times jarring and always exhilarating. Characters come and go, some never to return. Stories stop and start. On paper it all sounds like a recipe for an unsatisfying whole, a buffet without a central theme tying it together. But, at the heart of the book is the city of Los Angeles, the only constant, a sprawling, disconnected, collection of neighbourhoods. Frey brings it to life like a character in it’s own right. His restless, almost breathless style pulls you in and keeps you engaged. The first time I read it, I read it in one sitting.
Fionnuala, pronounced "Finoola", is Irish, living just outside London and is hugely proud to say she's a writer.
Before her writing career, she was an insurance pen pusher, a too-short-to-ever-be-successful model, finally ending up working in the property world. There, for many years, she was a home search agent – think Phil and Kirstie but without the cameras. She loved it while it lasted but the day came when that writing itch just had to be scratched.
She's married, a mother, a sibling, a daughter, a friend: all roles which help provide fodder for the day job plus she's a dialogue whore; loves listening in on conversations, on real life drama. Coffee shops, the tube, standing at a till, she can be seen scribbling on a yellow post it. She loves to write about relationships, peel away the layers that make up couples, friends, parents and children, siblings. She wants to know the ‘who', the ‘what' and ‘why' of what's happening in people's lives and how they really feel about it.
- After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell - Maggie O’Farrell has a knack of making you walk in her character’s shoes and though this is an emotional rollercoaster, Alice’s story is sad, tender and just beautifully written. My copy is tear stained and loved.
- A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - The story centres on the bond between two women, Mariam and Layla. Set against the background of war-torn Afghanistan, it’s ultimately about how love and the human spirit can triumph in the most awful circumstances. I’m in awe of how male Hosseini manages to write from two different female points of view in such an engaging and sympathetic way.
- One Day by David Nicholls - I love the easy manner in which Emma and disastrous, but loveable, Dexter’s lives unfold over twenty years, their story unravelling on the same date each year. Nicholls writes authentic, real-life dialogue in this gorgeous love story.
- Post Mortem by Patricia Cornwall - Though I’ve been a ‘Kay Scarpetta’ fan for many years, I think the first in the series, Post Mortem, is still my favourite. Even after twenty other novels, this one, if you’ll forgive the pun, is a killer. It’s medical examiner versus serial killer and if you like the occasional leap from your seat, it’s a tense, suspenseful, gritty, read.
- The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak - I’ll steer away from spoilers but will say that this book has my favourite ever last line. It’s just so powerful… The story is about nine year old Liesel, living with her foster parents during the rise of Nazi Germany. Most unusually, it’s narrated by ‘Death’ and though it often tackles the cruel elements of human nature, the tale is surprisingly warm and up-lifting too.
Jane Corry is a former magazine journalist who spent three years working as the writer-in-residence of a high security prison for men. She had never been inside a jail before and this often hair-raising experience helped inspire her Sunday Times bestselling psychological thrillers, Blood Sisters, My Husband's Wife and The Dead Ex. Jane's new book I Looked Away, will be published by Penguin in June 2019.
- Eric, or, Little by Little by Frederic W. Farrar - First published in 1858. This is the first adult book I remember reading. I was eight at the time and confined to bed with chicken pox. I was at that stage in my illness when I was bored - not to mention itchy! - so I sneaked in to my parents’ bedroom and borrowed this because I liked the look of the cover. Now, when I look at it, I find it very old-fashioned but at the time I was riveted by the sad tale of this little boy at boarding school. I loved reading my parents’ books. It felt like venturing into a forbidden world.
- The Waves by Virginia Woolf - I discovered Virginia Woolf and the 'stream of consciousness' when I read English at university. I instantly felt I’d found a kindred spirit. I loved - and still do - the way her words melt into a wave of images. It’s like meditating.
- The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse - I came across Hesse in the university laundry where one of the other freshers began telling me about a book he was reading. I fell in love with both. They each had lyrical qualities but my relationship with Hesse lasted longer.
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce - I adore the slightly eccentric plot and above all, the characters who sing out of the pages. It’s proof - if any is needed - that a successful book makes you truly believe in the people within.
- Daily Strength For Daily Needs. Selected by Mary Tileston - I found this in my mother’s personal possessions after she died, aged 56. It’s a selection of sayings for every day of the year. Her well-worn edition still has family birthdays written in her familiar loopy writing on the relevant pages. They have provided guidance and help for me in various situations. When friends are going through rough patches, I always buy them a copy.
Jean is the author of twelve novels set in East London. In addition, she leads writing workshop and is a regular guest speaker at WIs, U3As and on cruise ships.
I’m afraid if you’re looking for me to point you towards acclaimed literary classic then you’re going to be disappointed as I go for gripping historical storytelling every time.
- Katherine by Anya Seton - I read this book when I was 14 or so and it started my life-long love of Historical fiction. I’m not alone because whenever I’ve asked a group of women if anyone remembers reading this book at least two or three hands go up.
- The King Must Die by Mary Renaud - I also read this when I was a teenager and have loved it ever since. It takes the names and place of myths and legends and turns them into real people. Interesting, for a historical novel it is narrated in first person by Agamemnon.
- I’m going to cheat and name Accursed Kings series by Maurice Duron as my third book. This story translated from the French follows the fortunes and misfortunes of Philip the Fair of France and his sons. Fast-paced, gory and totally gripping.
- When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Penman - Again, a medieval tale of family rivalry and the fight for the crown between Matilda and Stephen and their bastard brothers. Gripping storytelling and brilliant characterisation.
- Derided by critics and devoured by readers The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel, which follows the story Ayla an early modern human child raised by Neanderthals. I read two pages and could not put it down. The sequels Valley of the House and The Mammoth Hunters are equally gripping with a heavy dollop of Fifty Shades of Neolithic.
Author and LoveReading Editorial Expert
Joanne Owen’s lifelong love of reading and writing began when she was growing up in Pembrokeshire, and very much wished that witches (and Mrs Pepperpot) were real. An early passion for culture, story and folklore led Joanne to read archeology and anthropology at St John’s, Cambridge, after which she worked as a bookseller, and led the UK children’s book buying team for a major international retailer. During this time, Joanne also wrote children’s book previews and features for The Bookseller, covering everything from the value of translated fiction, to the contemporary YA market. Joanne later joined Bloomsbury’s marketing department, where she had the pleasure of working on epic Harry Potter launches at Edinburgh Castle and the Natural History Museum, and launching Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. After enjoyable spells as Marketing Director for Macmillan Children’s Books and Consumer Marketing Manager for Walker Books, Joanne went freelance, primarily working for multi-award-winning independent children’s publisher, Nosy Crow.
Alongside her publishing career, Joanne has written several books for children/young adults. She’s now a fulltime reviewer, workshop presenter and writer, working on YA novels with a strong basis in diverse folklore from around the world, as well as fiction for younger readers (in which witches are very much real).
- Voyage in the Dark by Jean Rhys - the most sublimely succinct, intense writer I’ve ever read. In this novel, as in most of her work, Rhys writes about women forced into waters they struggle to navigate with cutting, brutal honesty, conveying more thought-provoking truths in a single short sentence than most writers manage in a doorstop novel.
- Days of Anger by Sylvie Germain - woefully unknown in the English-speaking world, but a revered prize-winner in her native France, Germain writes across history and humanity with raw, folkloric energy. This is a darkly captivating novel of murder, madness and elemental emotions.
- Small Island by Andrea Levy - engrossing, smoothly readable, universally resonant novel about the Windrush generation. This enlightening social history with heart reveals more with every read.
- The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter - wolfishly witty feminist fairytales that crackle with the spirit of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, who will happily make good use of her big ears, eyes and teeth whenever necessary, thank you very much!
- The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington - A deliciously unconventional novella by a leading surrealist artist who defied every convention through her life and work. This tells the absurdly unlikely tale of a forthright 92 year-old woman who discovers the secrets of the holy grail in her retirement home. An alchemical allegory about religion and spirituality and, perhaps above all else, a fiercely funny story about the irrepressible magic and wisdom of old ladies.
Johana Gustawsson, a former journalist, was born in Marseille, France. Her critically acclaimed “Roy & Castells series” (Block 46, Keeper, Blood Song) is now published in nineteen countries and currently adapted into a TV series.
- Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand - This is a jewel of a book that I offer to the people close to my heart. It is the most stunning play in verses, written back at the end of the XIXth century, about the impossible love between Cyrano and Roxane. This play actually introduced the French word “panache” to the English language.
- Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire - Those poems from French author Charles Baudelaire are the most delicate, and sensual ones I have ever read. “The perfume”, “The Hair”, “The Death”, “Spleen and Ideal”, all invitations to the most delicate language and vision a poet can create. There is also a pinch of eroticism, if I wouldn’t have convinced you yet…
- The Prophet by Khalil Gibran - This is a book I will offer to my sons as soon as they enter the adult age. It’s a moving and enlightening journey through human condition, beliefs and society. “The Prophet” has been translated into more than one hundred languages. It’s the type of philosophical fable that you read at different stages of your life, seeing its meaning evolve. Unique and precious.
- The Ice People by René Barjavel - This is a book I read when I was a teenager and it moved me in incredible ways. It’s a science fiction novel about an expedition in Antarctica that finds traces of a nearly one million years old civilization which had a total different vision about love and finding the one. A pure delight.
- Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie - This is my favourite murder mystery. I read it when I was 7, not long after my first ever Agatha Christie, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles”. And then I read it again and again, amazed by the talent of the Queen of Crime and fascinated by Poirot, this little Belgian detective who stole my reader’s heart.
Liese O’Halloran Schwarz is the author of two novels, The Possible World and Near Canaan; she currently lives in North Carolina, USA, where she is at work on her next book.
- The Stories of Richard Bausch by Richard Bausch - This collection from the master of short fiction is bursting with jewels, not the least of which is Letter to the Lady of the House, a glorious example of what the English language can achieve (and I dare you not to cry while reading it). Reading Bausch is transporting for me as a reader, and humbling as a writer.
- Peony In Love by Lisa See - Yes, Snow Flower was wonderful, and The Tea Girl, and all of her other books, but Peony in Love is the one I come back to. See's magnificent storytelling is here in all of its exquisite detail, along with a really shocking, rulebreaking twist (nope, not telling you what it is); it is a deeply beautiful, absorbing read. Take this to your desert island.
- The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carré - Here’s your classic spy novel, snappy and brisk, but also much more. It’s a heartbreaking personal drama set against the backdrop of the Cold War — a conflict that is, unfortunately, quite relevant today. Yes, The Human Factor, I see you, and it was my own heartbreaking personal drama not to choose you. Weeping emoji.
- The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman - This fascinating nonfiction account of the cultural clash between the family of a Hmong child and her Western doctors is a truly outstanding work of journalism and an unforgettable story. As a doctor, I greatly appreciated the author’s evenhandedness; I think every doctor and patient (see what I did there?) must read this.
- How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid - To include this book here, I jettisoned dozens of masterpieces, but this one stands out to me for how much it accomplishes in a small space, packing the core struggles of the twenty-first century developing world into an eminently-readable love story and carrying the reader along to such a powerful ending that its beauty literally dropped my jaw.
Award winning author of The Cornish House, A Cornish Affair, A Cornish Stranger Sky, Under A Cornish, The Returning Tide, One Cornish Summer and a novella – A Cornish Christmas Carol. The Path To The Sea will be out on 25 July 2019. After ten international moves, she's a bit of a global nomad. It’s no wonder her heart remains in Cornwall. For more information visit lizfenwick.com. Or find her procrastinating on Twitter @liz_fenwick
- The Red Tent by Anita Diamant - This book opened my eyes to women in the bible. I have given away more copies of this books than any other. It is brilliant.
- Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain - Adventure…mischief…humour. I don’t know how many times I reread this book as a child.
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho - A bit like the story itself this books came to when I needed to trust myself and take risks to make my writing career succeed. It invites you to look a things differently and in my mind that is always a good thing.
- H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald - This book is so beautiful in every way. The writing is exquisite as it speaks of grief, creativity and so so much more.
- Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier - Daphne du Maurier was a master story teller and this is my favourite of her books. It evokes Cornwall in a way that is simply magic.
LoveReading Reviews Editor
Liz has been an Editorial Expert writing reviews for LoveReading since February 2014. Reading has always played a huge part in her life and she can quite happily chat books all day. She previously spent twenty years working as a member of police support staff, including roles as Criminal Intelligence Analyst, Briefing Officer and Crime Reduction Advisor. She relishes her time spent exploring all genres, and particularly enjoys novels that encourage her emotions to run riot, or fling her back in time or to unknown places, She's also thrilled when broadsided by an unexpected twist. She was delighted to have been asked to be a judge for the Romantic Novelists' Association Goldsboro Romantic Novel of the Year Award 2018, the LoveReading Very Short Story Award 2019, and the Chiddingstone Castle Literary Festival Short Story Competition 2019. She would describe herself as a reader, a lover of all things books, and can be found on twitter as @LRLizRobinson.
Oooh sooo hard to choose five… Ask me tomorrow and I would possibly put some different ones on the list… In no particular order.
- The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld - harrowing, powerful, compassionate, it won’t be for everyone due to the content, I sobbed and sobbed some more at the end, it is a book I will never, ever forget.
- Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman - I first read this as I was about to exit my teens and absolutely adored it, I have to re-read it every now and then to remind myself just how good it is. Both writers are on my list of all time favourites, and I recommend just diving in.
- The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss - almost too gorgeous for words, it is a companion novella tale to The Kingkiller Chronicles, but I still feel you could read it as a standalone if you adore the slightly odd side of life.
- Troy: Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell - this is the first in a trilogy based around the myths of Troy by one of the greats of the fantasy world, pacy, fabulous storytelling - love it!
- Time and Time Again by Ben Elton - a hugely exciting, intense (and sneaky) read, at points it left me with my mouth wide open.
Sandra Ireland is the Scottish author of Gothic noir novels Beneath the Skin, Bone Deep and The Unmaking of Ellie Rook (out in July), all published by Polygon.
This is a difficult task. A lifetime of books involves an awful lot of reading! I thought perhaps the best way to tackle it was to take books from different parts of my life. It’s been quite a journey!
- The Seal-Singing by Rosemary Harris (Faber, 1971) - Set on the fictional Scottish island of Carrigona, I remember this being quite eerie and magical. Even now, I love a story with a touch of otherworldliness.
- The Dwelling Place by Catherine Cookson (Little, Brown 1980) - The first ‘grown-up book’ I ever read. Quite unsettling themes for sheltered teenagers, but a healthy dose of realism.
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847) - I adore anything dark and gothic, and Brontë’s descriptions of landscape and character are remarkable.
- The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric (Bloomsbury, 2010) - Creepy, horrific and unlike anything I’ve ever read before! This book made me question what I liked to read and why, and it heavily influenced my own writing as a result.
- Ferney by James Long (Simon and Schuster, 2016) - This is a beautifully written time-slip novel with a very clever twist. The sort of book I’d love to have written!
Marnie Riches is the best-selling, award-winning author of the George McKenzie international crime-thrillers (The Girl Who…) and Manchester-set Born Bad & The Cover-Up. Her next release, Tightrope, publishes July 2019.
- The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris – as crime-fiction goes, I don’t think I’ve read anything that tops Harris’ most famous novel for brilliance in plot, characterisation and enjoyable writing! I use this as my own gold-standard for how to write perfect crime-fiction.
- The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco – This book offers the best of all worlds: a thrilling murder-mystery with a wonderful medieval historical setting, examining the complexities of the Church and the Inquisition.
- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien – Already a fan of children’s fantasy thanks to the magic of C.S. Lewis, when I read and re-read Tolkien’s masterpiece as a teen, I was blown away by the complexity and invention of his wonderful Middle Earth.
- The Colour Purple by Alice Walker – This is simply a classic story, incredibly well-told through a series of letters between two sisters. It’s a breath-taking and moving account of a young Black woman’s struggle in the segregated American Deep South.
- Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson – It’s the book that paved the way for Bridget Jones and all humorous women’s fiction, I’m sure. Screamingly funny and touching, I absolutely loved this story about a girl growing up in a super-religious, cult-like Pentecostal community.
Author and LoveReading Editorial Expert
Matt Johnson served as a soldier and Metropolitan Police officer for nearly twenty-five years from 1975 until 1999. He is the author of three crime/spy fiction novels Wicked Game (2016), Deadly Game (2017) and End Game (2018) published by Orenda Books. His debut novel was listed for the CWA John Creasey Dagger in 2016.
Blown off his feet at the London Baltic Exchange bombing in 1992, one of the first police officers on the scene of the 1982 Regent's Park bombing, Matt was also at the Libyan People's Bureau shooting in 1984 where he escorted his mortally wounded friend and colleague, Yvonne Fletcher, to hospital.
Hidden wounds took their toll. In 1999, Matt was discharged from the police with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Whilst undergoing treatment, he was encouraged by his counsellor to write about his career and his experience of murders, shootings and terrorism.
One evening, Matt sat at his computer and started to weave these notes into a work of fiction that he described as having a tremendously cathartic effect on his own condition. He has used his detailed knowledge and memory to create what has been described by many readers as a fast paced, exciting and authentic tale of modern day policing.
Matt Johnson is living proof that PTSD is a condition that can be controlled and overcome with the right help and support. He has been described by many fans as an inspiration to fellow sufferers.
A keen biker, Matt rides a '99 Harley Davidson Fatboy and is patron to the UK based ‘Forces On line' and ‘Armed Forces Bikers' charities.
In his spare time Matt keeps honey bees and produces his own honey. He scuba dives, collects unusual hats and enjoys hill-walking with his three dogs at his home in Wales near the Brecon Beacons. Twitter: @Matt_Johnson_UK.
- As a teenager, I was fascinated by science. Man had just landed on the moon – no, I don’t subscribe to the conspiracy theories – and the idea of space travel and life on other worlds sparked the imagination of many a writer. One of the very best exponents of this genre was Frank Herbert. Dune is one of the most famous science fiction novels ever written and needs little by way of introduction. It was described as one of the landmarks of modern science fiction. Fans of ‘Game of Thrones’ and similar incredible worlds could do well to read this and learn where these ideas first started.
- Although not a fan of graphic horror films, I do admit a weakness for an imaginative book that can leave the gore to your imagination. Chiller-fiction, I believe it is called, and James Herbert was the UK’s best exponent, to my view. The Fog was the first of his books to grab my attention but I soon went on the read others such as The Rats and Survivor. Herbert’s writing has been a huge influence on my own. His twenty-three novels sold more than 54 millions copies worldwide and in many translations. I’m sad that, as he died in 2013, I will never get to meet him to thank him.
- One of the masters of the genre I write in myself has to be Lee Child. Killing Floor introduced the world to Jack Reacher, a character who has become even better known than his creator. Reacher has such universal appeal, to readers of all ages, male and female, that he has set the bar, the target to which all other authors in this genre must aspire. I haven’t read the most recent Reacher books, but the early ones never failed to grip me. Killing Floor, given that was the first time I met the 6’7” military cop, is to my mind the best.
- In more recent years, I have tried to broaden my horizons, to read outside my favoured genres and look at the work of fine authors. It was with this in mind that I started Birdsong. This is one of the very first books that, when I finished the final page I put it to one side and just sat there, stunned. I really enjoyed Birdsong that much. Last year, I had the opportunity to meet Sebastian Faulks at an event and we enjoyed a good chat about football – a shared passion – about writing and about my first literary events, which were on the horizon. Sebastian was kind enough to share a tip with me, and then to demonstrate it to the audience. He advised me to be careful, and not to spill my wine all over my notes as I started to talk!
- When my partner first handed me a copy of Pillars of the Earth, I felt quite daunted by its length. I’m glad I persisted. This incredible novel kept me occupied for weeks. I found the story drew me in and I really needed to follow as the stories of the characters unfolded. If you haven’t read it, try it. After all, Ken comes from Wales, which speaks volumes in itself!
Author and LoveReading Editorial Expert
Maxim Jakubowski is a London-based novelist and editor. He was born in the UK and educated in France. He worked for many years in publishing in editorial director positions for Virgin, the Thomson Organisation, Penguin and Ebury Press before opening the world-famous Murder One bookshop in 1988.
He has written on and reviewed crime for Time Out, The Guardian, the Times, the Daily Telegraph and The Bookseller, amongst other publications, and is a regular broadcaster on radio and TV, and lectures on both crime and mystery fiction, and erotica. He also runs CRIME SCENE, London’s annual crime film and literature festival, and is an adviser to the International Mystery Film Festival.
Why? Because they are wonerdfully unique and sui generis…
They are all such essential titles that justifying their selection each in a sentence is nigh on impossible, hence my follow-up line. All I can say is that in addition to their literary and social importance they all 'talk' to me in different ways, which probably says a lot about me in terms of my attitude to romance, pathos, tragedy, despair, love, sex and attitude to life...
Paul Burston is the author of five novels including the W.H. Smith bestseller The Black Path. His sixth novel The Closer I Get will be published by Orenda in July 2019.
- The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith - Complex, disturbing and way ahead of its time, this book is laced with black humour and introduces us to an unforgettable, charismatic, queer anti hero.
- The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath - I must have read this semi-autobiographical novel a dozen times or more and each time I’m dazzled by her talent.
- Tales of The City (series) by Armistead Maupin - Witty, diverse, life-affirming and soon to be a major TV series. I return to these books whenever I’m feeling low.
- Carrie by Stephen King - The book that launched the king of horror, just as powerful today. Another book I’ve re-read countless times.
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - Shelley’s novel had a profound effect on popular culture, and reminds us that the real monster is man.
Penny Parkes is the author of The Larkford Series – books filled with heart and humour about life in the Cotswolds – and is the 2017 winner of the RNA Best Romantic Comedy Novel. Penny can be found on Twitter and Instagram as @CotswoldPenny
- The Best of Times by the late, great Penny Vincenzi – a sweeping and enthralling story about how lives turn on a moment of chance. A huge cast of characters, yet woven so tightly and cleverly together as to create a story-telling masterpiece.
- Pillars of The Earth by Ken Follett - The first of his books I ever read and the beginning of a beautiful journey. Historical yet strangely immediate, the story behind our great cathedrals is one that will both shock and delight.
- Ferney by James Long - A time-slip book for people who don’t like time-slip books! Ferney’s story is utterly beguiling and captures your heart on so many levels, until you mourn the last page. A beautiful book.
- Marian Keyes writes the kind of book that reels me in, makes me laugh, breaks my heart and makes me whole again. My favourite is Rachel’s Holiday: in my opinion, a modern classic – darkly funny, deeply touching and beautifully crafted.
- A Spring Affair by Milly Johnson - I defy anyone to read this book without feeling uplifted and inspired – the perfect book if you feel that, really, a little decluttering of your possessions and your emotions is in order.
LoveReading Editorial Expert
Victoria Goldman has always had a passion for reading and writing, with a childhood dream of becoming a crime fiction author. She gained a Biomedical Science BSc degree, planning to follow this with a PhD in Forensics, but then became sidetracked, realising she loved writing too much to spend the rest of her life in a lab. She gained an MSc in Science Communication instead, and became a freelance health journalist and editor, specialising in consumer health.
Twenty-five years on, as well being Freelance Health Editor for Bupa, Victoria contributes to various consumer and pharmacy magazines on a monthly basis. She is the author of a book on children’s allergies and, over the years, has contributed to (and edited) other health and science books for adults and children.
Victoria has recently updated the bestselling baby health book Your Baby: Week by Week by Dr Caroline Fertleman & Simone Cave for Ebury/Vermilion (Penguin Random House UK). She is represented for non-fiction (health) by the Barbara Levy Literary Agency.
In her spare time, Victoria runs a successful books website called Off-the-Shelf Books and can often be found tweeting her book love (@VictoriGoldma2). She is also writing crime fiction, still intending to fulfil her childhood dream. She is married with two teenage sons and loves relaxing at the end of a busy day by diving into a good book.
- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier - It’s been years since I read Rebecca and I have now put it on my ’to buy’ list so that I can read it again. It’s a masterpiece in plotting and writing suspense - and a precursor to modern-day psychological thrillers.
- Carrie by Stephen King - This was one of the first Stephen King books I read as a teenager and led to my love of the horror genre. I could recommend many more of his earlier books as well, but this one came to mind first.
- Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom - I loved this heartwarming, emotional read with its lessons about life - and living. (I have the same affection for many of Mitch Albom's other books - especially The Five People You Meet in Heaven - and I struggled to choose between them).
- Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes - This was the first ‘modern day’ psychological thriller I ever read. It’s intense, dark and gripping and a very uncomfortable read.
- How to Be Brave by Louise Beech - Thinking about the books I’ve read in more recent years, this is the one that I find myself recommending the most. It’s beautifully written, heartwarming and passionate - a book about hope, courage, acceptance and love.
Carmen Marcus is a writer from the North Yorkshire coast. Her debut novel How Saints Die was published with Harvill Secker in 2017. It won New Writing North’s Northern Promise Award and was long listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize. Carmen is also a creative practitioner and performance poet whose work has been commissioned by BBC Radio, The Royal Festival Hall and national festivals. As a working class writer Carmen is dedicated to creating opportunities for underrepresented voices to be heard. You can find out more at nowriterleftbehind.wordpress.com - Follow Carmen at @Kalamene
Photo credit: Kev Howard Photography.
- The Book of the Duchess by Geoffrey Chaucer - Okay, so not technically a book but it is one of the most psychologically true depictions of depression in the English language. Chaucer takes his protagonist on a shamanic journey from tortured sleeplessness caused by a loss too hurtful to name into a vivid dream world where healing is possible. It’s incredible not least because it shows how the universal experience of loss connects us across centuries.
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - This is a winter book to take into hibernation with you. It’s an important book to read because it makes us question the causes and consequences of poverty. But it expands the idea of poverty into not just an inequality of wealth but the damage done to the human soul when we are forced to live lives that are too small for our deepest needs.
- Orlando by Virginia Woolf - I first read this when I was a teenager. Here was a book that had a five hundred year old protagonist who became a woman half-way through the story. My first thought was ‘is this allowed’, my second thought was anything is possible now, not just on the page but beyond it in how we live and shape our world.
- White Teeth by Zadie Smith - This book picked me up and shook me in its jaws. It is a whirlwind of a story that swoops up characters from Bangladesh and Jamaica and drops them in the melting pot of London. It shows us however much humans are obsessed with endings life will transform them into beginnings.
- Saltwater by Jessica Andrews - This novel won’t be published until this spring but I was lucky enough to read a proof copy. When you read a novel that you know is going change the way we think of story: who can write it, who it’s about, how it’s written: there’s this feeling, like when you’ve been up all night dancing, you’re exhausted and hurt and alive and awake in ways you’ve never been before. This is a story about now, about class and gender, about being broken by spaces that aren’t designed for you, trying to live on the margins and finally the return to the body - your mother’s, your own, the earth to find out what you truly want.
Laura shares her love of books with as many people as she can via her blog Bucks, Books and Beyond.
- The BFG by Roald Dahl - When I think back to when and why I first started reading, this book always sticks out in my mind. It’s one of my earliest memories of reading as a child and for that reason it will always hold a special place in my heart no matter how many books I read. I remember as a child feeling transported into the world’s Roald Dahl created and reading along with the colourful characters and language he used and feeling like the world was full of so many possibilities. I owe my passion of reading to this book and all the others by Roald Dahl that I read after.
- The Secret Life of a Barrister by Anonymous - This was the book that got me into book blogging. I read this book last year and felt so passionately about what I had just read that I felt compelled to share my thoughts with as many people as I could. I had such a strong reaction to this book and I felt that everyone needed to have this book on their radar and that is when I discovered the wonderful community of book bloggers and my reading material and the people I have interacted with have opened up my reading experiences no end.
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King - I love books that mess around with time travel, provided they are still easy to follow and Stephen King mastered it in this book for me. I remember I stumbled across this book purely by accident in one of those areas in a hotel on holiday where travellers can leave books they’ve finished with and don’t want to take home. I’d read a few Stephen King books previously and already knew I liked his work so instantly grabbed this one and refused to move from the sun lounger until I’d finished it!
- The Pelican Brief by John Grisham - Legal thrillers have always been one of my favourite genres and in my opinion no one quite covers this genre as expertly as John Grisham does. I have read most of his books and I always know I’m guaranteed for a good read when I pick up one of his books. The Pelican Brief was the first book I read of his and it got me hooked and continually looking out for when he was brining his next book out.
- The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup - I actually only finished reading this book very recently but I enjoyed it so much that I felt it deserved a place in my top 5. I honestly couldn't put this book down and I haven't felt that strongly about a book in a while. I've enjoyed a lot of books recently, but there was something different about the writing and the storyline in this book that totally captured me in the best possible way.
Vic is Welsh and a book lover. She has been a book 'worm' for as long as she can remember. Reading is a form of escapism for her. She never knows when to shut up about books ;) so go and visit her blog The Welsh Librarian. You can follow her on Twitter @WelshLibrarian.
- The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne - Such a harrowing account of WW2 from the other side of the fence (literally).
- Playing Away by Adele Parks - The first book I remember reading that made me want to start writing, I've loved Adele's work ever since.
- Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence - The first science fiction book I remember reading and enjoying.
- Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck - Just an amazing, amazing book.
- The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick - Before it's time. A stunning lesson in how to write alternative reality fiction.
Kerry is a 40 something teacher and mum of three who loves reading and listening to books of all kinds but particularly crime and mysteries.
Noemi has always liked to read. In fact, she can't remember a time when she hasn't read. Even when she was a child, you could often find her with her nose in a book, that's why she studied literature at university and then found a job in publishing. In addition to books, she loves movies, coffee, swimming, and travelling.
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - I love this book because it's told through the eyes of a little girl who sees the adult world with candor and positivity. My favourite scene is when, the protagonist, Scout, innocently manages to stop a mob of men from killing a black man accused of rape.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - This is one of these books I read at least once a year. I love the characters of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and Mr. Collins makes me laugh every time.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald - I love to travel back to New York in the Jazz Age. The glitz, the glamour, the parties, this is a timeless classic!
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett - This is a favourite book from childhood. I used to dream to have my own secret garden where I could hide and spend my time and make friends with animals. An absolute favourite!
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling - I love all the Harry Potter books and, if I could, I would have put the whole series on this list, but having to choose one, I chose the third book in the series, because it's always been my favourite. Not only does it introduce my favourite character, Sirius Black, but it was also the first book I read of the series which, at the time, almost twenty years ago, was the only one they had in my local library and which made me fall in love with this fantastic series.
Linda is a retired teacher, educational consultant and inspector obsessed with books. A keen traveller, she often packs more books than clothes to go away. She’s writing a novel too.
- When All Is Said by Anne Griffin - Poetic, beautifully written and completely absorbing, When All Is Said is a poignant, emotional and utterly brilliant tour de force and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
- Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy - If you read no other 'classic' read this. The depth of feeling, the family history, the depiction of society, the relationships, the harrowing love story, seduction, murder, all wrapped up in perfect plotting and description make Tess's story one that has as much relevance today as it has ever had.
- Jakob's Colours by Lindsay Howden - For a different, personal and emotive perspective on WW2 look no further. 8 year old Jakob steals the heart and soul of the reader and the poetic quality of the writing is just glorious. It's a book that resonates years after you've read it. It will break your heart.
- Mary Ann Sate Imbecile by Alice Jolly - Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile may well be the most remarkable book I have ever read. It is mesmerising. The structure is so innovative and fresh that the quality of the writing defies superlatives. Over 600 pages with almost no punctuation this book is effortless to read and totally absorbing.
- The Book of Love by Fionnuala Kearney - For a totally emotional read that will have you in pieces, The Book of Love is perfect. The depth of feeling conveyed is almost unbearable at times. It's so much more than simply a love story.
- Rachel is a lifelong reader, more recently a book blogger, and reviewer across a variety of social media platforms.
- Rachel is a #Blogtour participator as well as a #Netgalley and #Goodreads reviewer since 2013 and is open to book requests as well.
- At a more local level, Rachel is a member of the #sbcollective, a bookbloggers group hosted by Waterstones Swansea.
- Little My is Rachel's bookish avatar, Rachel and Tove Jansson share a birthday and Moomins are Rachel's spirit animal!
- Watership Down by Richard Adams - This was one of my first 'proper' books as a young child of 8/9 and I read this after being completely destroyed by the film. I think I was hoping for a happier ending! It was equally terrifying, beautiful and heart-breaking and 'Watership Down' is still one of my favourites that I read on annual basis. The more you read it, the more your perspectives change and I see things there that I wouldn't have as a child which is why this book resonates so much. It seems like a simple tale of rabbits searching for a new home but there are so many layers to pick away. This is why I will never understand people who ask why I keep so many books and who say 'When you've read them , what's the point of re-reading?'. People change, perspectives change and you can enjoy the same book in different ways for the rest of your life!
- Salem's Lot by Stephen King - WAAAYYYY too young to have been reading this, 'Salem's Lot' was my first taste of horror and I have vivid memories of sneaking off to my Nana's parlour, stealing an armful of my uncle's pulp books and hiding behind her 'good settees' to read. It was mind-blowing how scary it was and started a life long love affair with horror fiction. Vampires are still my go to monster for chills! A modern day updating of 'Dracula', what could be more sinister than vampires low key stealing your neighbourhoods? They slide in so inconspicuously and even though this was written in the 1970's, it still works for me when I read it. I don't know if that could happen today, but it has a vintage nostalgia for me, of a time before the internet and everyone being instantly available due to technology. The relationship between main character, Ben Mears, and his childhood home town is so poignant and well constructed, and the interconnected stories of what is happening in the 'Lot, as Ben grapples with his past create a mounting sense of dread. Add in a truly sinister haunted house, a bereaved writer and the true stories of towns that disappeared overnight and you have a true horror classic!
- Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier - This book really resonates for me-as a child we had little money and less books so libraries were really a life support to this Constant Reader. Having worked my way through all the children's classics, the librarians recommended this one. It looked like a romance and I needed a lot convincing (It was a 4 volume set along with 3 other classic Du Maurier's ). After reading and enjoying 'Frenchmen's Creek', I started Rebecca expecting more of the same. What I didn't expect was to be so chilled and twisted, turned inside out by the plot and to have housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, imprinted on my memory in one of the best nail biting scenes I ever read. This story of a young woman who becomes the second Mrs DeWinter after a holiday fling sounds innocent and innocuous, but is absolutely the story of a haunting. Stepping into another woman's shoes is difficult enough but Rebecca's seem unfillable. It takes a supremely talented writer to create a novel without giving her protagonist a name yet making the thing that is missing the counterpoint to the entire plot of the book. Ingeniously clever and so worthy of repeated reading! *as an aside, my headmaster caught me reading this book under the table at school,aged 10, and accused me of 'showing off' so made me stand up and read it aloud. I did, and he had the grace to apologise so it's a tiny bookish win for the bookworm*
- The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie - There HAD to be a Christie in here somewhere! Despite, or maybe because of, her enduring popularity it is easy to overlook just how clever her books were. 'And Then There Were None' is still a major influence on psychological thriller writers to this day and 'The Murder of Roger Ackroyd' introduces a technique which still catches readers out. The locked room mystery is an absolute classic format when done well, and this is her finest. There are plenty of suspects to choose from -but not too many-and the titular dead body had, in life, plenty of enemies. The immaculate balancing of suspense versus revealing clues keeps the reader on their toes the entire time but never excludes them from the deductive process. The first person narrative creates a sense of intimacy between Dr Haydock and the reader as though you are partners in trying to solve the murder. It's one of her finest and I would thoroughly recommend it!
- The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter - This collection of short stories is a perfect introduction to gothic horror and story telling. Feminist reworkings of classic tales are brilliantly rendered, the most famous of which, 'The Bloody Chamber', was filmed as 'The Company Of Wolves ' by Neil Jordan. Exploring burgeoning sexuality, the place of women in a patriarchal society and written in tone rich opulence, this collection remains a favourite 'go to' anthology. Angela Carter was a master of the short story as an art form and each one of these is small and perfectly formed.
Sara-Jade Virtue is the Brand Director - Commercial Fiction at S&S, the home of booksandthecity.co.uk. When not reading, she likes to eat cake, take photos of her cat and drink Gin.
- The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell - Completely breathtakingly, intense and heart-breaking, this is my absolutely favourite novel by Maggie O'Farrell. With a mystery at it's heart, the book is unputdownable in the truest sense of the word.
- The Truth About Melody Browne by Lisa Jewell - Utterly compelling, this classic Lisa Jewell novel is one of the most touching novels I've ever read. I've never cared for a character as much as I do for poor little Melody. Her story has stayed with me since I first read the book 18 years ago.
- Hollywood Husbands by Jackie Collins - This, for me, is the absolute best novel, of the 32 written by the queen of the romantic thriller, Jackie Collins. In 1986, at the tender age of 16 I read the line "Jack Python walked through the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel with every eye upon him. He had money, charisma, a certain kind of power, razor-sharp wit, and fame. It all showed." I was hooked. Jackie sparked my passion for reading as an adult. And that passion turned into my career. I will forever be in her debt.
- The Last Letter From Your Lover by Jojo Moyes - Before 'Me Before You' there was 'The Last Letter From Your Lover', and it still remains my absolute favourite novel written by Jojo Moyes. One of the most moving and emotional books ever written, it's intriguing and evocative, romantic and intense. And there is a reveal, 3/4's of the way through that STILL blows my mind whenever I think about it.
- Lyrebird by Cecelia Ahern - Choosing just one Cecelia Ahern novel to add into this list was tough, especially as 'If You Could See Me Now' is on my laminated list of favourite all time novels, but the more recent 'Lyrebird ' has just pipped it to the post. Quirky and with just a hint of magic, the gentle love story between the two main characters is told with such care and such kindness that I couldn't help but fall utterly in love with them both.
Bianca is a fan of crime fiction and tea drinking. You can find Bianca with her nose in a book most days! Bianca is an avid reader who loves to spread news about the best books!
- The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - I enjoyed this book immensely. With amazing description for both location and characters, it really draws the reader in. This book started my love for the Millenium Trilogy and for Stieg Larsson and I have thoroughly enjoyed the following books too.
- The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown - Absolutely fascinating and absorbing! Brown's use of history and science to make the unbelievable believable is masterful. I liked the theories portrayed in the story and the use of deciphering codes made the book stand out to me.
- A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson - Not my usual pick of genre, but I read three quarters of this book while on the last holiday with my parents at 16, unfortunately I wasn't able to bring the book back with me to finish but it was a book I've never forgotten. I loved how Bryson portrayed the story of his travels. It also started my love of walking and I've had a dream ever since of hopefully visiting part of the Appalachian Trail. A few months ago my grandparents picked up a number of second hand books, and this was one of them so I've managed to get my very own copy to read again!
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King - Of course Stephen King is an author that everyone should have heard of and I believe that everyone should read at least one of his books. I can't recommend 11/22/63 enough! You will certainly get hooked. King's writing style is addictive and makes you want to keep reading. A very nostalgic look at the America of the 1950's and 60's, this novel examines the possibilities and consequences of time travel. If you could change history, would you? And if you did, what would the consequences be?
- 1984 by George Orwell - A classic that gets more chilling each time you read it! The political ideas in this book are astounding, thought-provoking and completely horrifying, and in terms of this, 1984 is a flawless piece of writing. I first read this for GSCE English at school and thought it was great! I have since re-read it a few times and you hear people say that it's a book 'You should read at least once in your life'.
Stacy is a proud producer and choreographer for the company, Walton-Gunn Productions, that she runs with her fiance and which was set up in honour of her parents who she lost in the past two years to cancer. She is currently in the preliminary reading stages of a masters in children's literature with Roehampton University and her area of research lies in children's theatre.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - I have read this Austen classic on several occasions in my life time and I take away something different with each read. This to me defines the true nature of a classic. A story for all time. Jane Austen is the epitome of female writing, her witty retorts and imaginative style show her true passion for the pen and I couldn't possibly compile a list of best books and refrain from including an Austen novel. But for me Mr Darcy holds the crown for my affection making Pride and Prejudice one of my all time favourites.
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens - My list certainly seems to be a miniature version of the literary canon, but I simply cannot leave a Dickensian classic off my list and who wouldn't love this rags to riches story and the jilted Mrs Havisham. The greatest books of all time should be the ones that grab a hold of you and refuse to let go and this can be said for the work of art that is Great Expectations.
- A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - This spellbinding novel picked me up and carried me on the biggest emotional rollercoaster of my reading journey to date. I was moved to tears and this book has never left me since finishing the concluding pages. Hence why this book has made it easily into my top five best books of all time.
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling - As an adult still desperately awaiting the arrival of my Hogwarts letter in the post I couldn't possibly fail to include a Potter book in my list and this installment is my absolute favourite. From the Quidditch World Cup to the Triwizard Tournament this book is bursting at the seams with imagination and intrigue. The literal and figurative magic surrounding these books are spellbinding and I applaud JK Rowling for changing the way children read.
- Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman - Fantasy is one of my favourite genres and Neil Gaiman is a legend in his field. This story is laced with imagination and excitement from page one and there's something strangely exciting about a whole new world below the city of London. This captured my attention as I was pulled into one of the most entertaining and captivating stories I have had the pleasure to read and it is why it has made it onto my list.
Stacey is married and has three sons. She lives in Manchester (UK) and is an avid reader. Stacey has been running her own book blog Whispering Stories since February 2015.
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon - Having a teenage son who is Autistic I found this book a real eye opener into his life and the way that he thinks and feels. I enjoyed it so much that I've read it a few times and seen the stage adaptation, which happens to really do the book justice and is amazing.
- The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey - I'm not really a reader of folklore books but there was something about this book that pulled me in. The brutal Alaskan climate along with a story of a couple who hid themselves away after they discovered they couldn't have children and move to a remote part of Alaska where people wouldn't ask questions. I love how you are left wondering whether the young 'snow girl' who turns up and gives them joy really existed or whether she was just in the couples mind.
- Message from Nam by Danielle Steel - I read this book in my coming of age years. The story of how one young woman was determined to not be like all the other women in her family and live a life of luxury but to do something that meant something to her. She entered a war zone, Vietnam, as a journalist and goes through so much hardship and loss. Yet she wants to get the message out to people just what is really happening in Vietnam. This was my first encounter with a woman that stood up for herself and fought through dangerous circumstances to stand up for those that couldn't for themselves.
- Obsidian (Lux series) by Jennifer L. Armentrout - This was my first encounter as an adult into the YA world and also the paranormal book world. I now, even at 41 have a love for these books. Jennifer knows how to captivate an audience with characters that are literally out of this world. This was the first series that I read back to back and couldn't wait to pick up the next one - There are five in the series. I remember reading until the early hours so engrossed. This book totally blew me away and I can still remember the happy feeling it gave me.
- Chocolat by Joanne Harris - There is something mystical about this book. The characters Vianne Rocher and her daughter Anouk have been so perfectly created. I love the whole concept of how they turn up in a little French village that is very religious and yet they go against the grain and choose to follow their own beliefs, even if people start thinking that they are witches because they don't go to church and that Vianne believes in the power of chocolate. The book is so captivating and unique. It also makes you hungry! I've read it numerous times and enjoyed the movie too.
One of Emma's earliest memories as a child was learning to read at school. Since then books have been a BIG part of her life. She is a stay at home mum to two small people and started her book blog, damppebbles.com, in January 2016. She says 'it feels a lot longer than that...but in the best way possible'.
- Messiah by Boris Starling - I love a serial killer thriller and this is a spectacular one! The bodies are posed in a macabre and gory fashion. There’s so much blood, it’s a brilliant page-turner from start to finish. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it was made into a television drama series a number of years ago. My very favourite book of all-time.
- Final Girls by Riley Sager - This book was exactly what I needed at exactly the right time. I have a thing about crime/horror crossover novels and Final Girls was perfection. Brilliantly addictive, deliciously dark and everything I want in a book! I think everyone should read it, no matter what genre you tend to choose. It's that good.
- The Wrong Child by Barry Gornell - This isn't a particularly well-known novel but it struck a chord with me and ended up very much under my skin. It’s hypnotic and so beautifully dark. I was enchanted and disgusted in equal measure. I was traumatised but oh gosh, I LOVED it. I could not put this book down, nor did I want to. When I reached the end I was heartbroken that it was over. Absolute literary perfection!
- Out by Natsuo Kirino (Translator: Stephen Snyder) - I read this book a number of years ago and it has stayed with me ever since; it's one of the books I recommend the most to people. It also started my love of Japanese crime fiction for which I am eternally grateful. Out is compelling reading, quite shocking and wonderfully macabre. I loved it!
- A Suitable Lie by Michael J. Malone - I wasn't expecting this book to be as powerful and as emotional as it was. This is not your every day, 'normal' domestic noir tale. It's so much more than that and it blew my socks off! A truly terrifying tale of happily married bliss gone horribly, horribly wrong. Heartbreaking, emotional and impossible to put down.
Tam is a self confessed bookworm that writes about all things travel-related. From latest books about to be released to the classics that line all well-established bookshelves, she reviews them all. She spends her time seeking out noteworthy bookshops and libraries from around the world as well as literary trails and accommodation with a literature twist.
- The Collector by John Fowles - The story line is sinister but it is written in such a beautiful way that you can't help but feel something towards Fredrick Clegg, a seemingly harmless but strange butterfly collector. This dark psychological thriller was the first book by Fowles but contains possibly his best work, in my opinion.
- Wild Swans by Jung Chang - Instantly, the fact that this was a banned book, drew my attention but then as I started to read about how three different generations of women grew up in Communist China my intrigue developed further. So much is still unknown about this country that I class this not only as a memoir about female experiences in a male dominated society but also as a historical account of a regime still hidden to so many.
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens - Beautifully written, this is a novel that touches on so many different ideas. People believe they are lonely but this is a story of loneliness in the extreme, created by prejudice and discrimination at a time where segregation was normal in the US. However, this is not a story about race, this is a story based on assumptions and how others react to those that are different, in this case, where and how a person is brought up. It is a story that highlights cause and effect brilliantly, showing that how people are treated often leads to how they treat others as well.
- I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes - This is an epic thriller that draws upon real-life events and creates storylines that could have happened. It is scary to think that something written in these pages could and potentially would happen in modern day society. Based on events that took place after 9/11 this 600 page saga is frighteningly reflective of today's world.
- The Truth about The Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker - Any book that has in excess of 700 pages and only takes me a matter of days to read has to have had something. This fast paced crime novel sums up how one person's life could easily be ruined by a false accusation. Based on a story of forbidden love, Harry's world is thrown into turmoil when his lover's body is found in his backyard. Unlike so many other novels, this one is so fast-paced and wholly believable that you are drawn in. You begin to feel like you are witnessing each scene as it unfolds and can't help but wonder, what happens next.
Kenneth B. Andersen is a Danish writer. He has written more than 35 books for teens and YA-readers in the genres fantasy and horror and been published in more than 15 countries. His fantasy-series The Great Devil War has just been published in English.
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy - I wept like a baby when I finished this one. A powerful story that stays with the reader for a long, long time.
- The Neverending Story by Michael Ende - A childhood favourite of mine about the importance of imagination and the power of words and story telling.
- Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury - A book about why books are so important. THAT must be the most important book of all.
- The Long Walk by Stephen King - One of Stephen King's more "unknown" stories. Written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman, this is a thrilling story about a group of boys who - well, goes for a walk.
- A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness - An incredible moving story about loss - and life.
Holly Seddon is author of Try Not To Breathe, Don't Close Your Eyes and Love Will Tear Us Apart. She grew up in Devon but now lives in central Amsterdam.
- Any Other Mouth by Anneliese Mackintosh - A collection of fictional essays, some parts autobiographical, others not. Every one so visceral and honest that I felt like a layer of my skin had been removed and left between the covers. Hilarity and heartbreak dance madly together and I can still feel the effects of reading this collection several years on.
- Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge - This should be on the curriculum for every pupil in the UK. What started as the weary cry in the form of a blog post flowered into an insightful, important and unflinching book about the realities of the UK’s complicated past, its present, the challenges still faced and how to actually address them.
- How Not To Be A Boy by Robert Webb - I struggle to talk about this book without choking up. Something seems to profoundly shift in everyone who reads it. It shines a light on so many of the behaviours we’re told are right, and natural, but which are anything but and hurt all of us in different ways. As a piece of work, it’s also a study of showing strength through vulnerability, but that makes it sound boring as hell. And it’s not, it’s hilarious! And touching, inspiring and wise.
1984 by George Orwell - I know I won’t be the only one to say this! It was a toss up between 1984 (published 1949), Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961) or A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932). All of which feel as important and prescient now as when they were written. I remember reading all of these as a teenager, on a well-worn literary path lots of us take as we become politically aware, grasping for understanding and newly open to the idea that the world is actually frightening and the dice loaded. These books offer no solutions, but there is a comfort in knowing that you’re not going mad – and an energy in anger that can be very useful indeed.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro - Spellbinding and spare in its prose, this book offers a masterpiece in sleight of hand. It feels like a memoir, acts like a work of historical analysis and yet is actually a world-creating dystopian polemic. And it manages all of that while being page-turningly irresistible and easy to read.
Anstey Spraggan did a Masters in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School and is the author of The Truths and Triumphs of Grace Atherton, published by Simon & Schuster. She lives in Kent. Her name is Anstey Harris when she's being a writer, Anstey Spraggan when she's not!
- The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham – Creepy children, mysterious powers, Cold War politics: what’s not to like.
- The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis – A beginner’s guide to how worlds are formed and how easy it is to hop between them: so important for young minds to know.
- 1984 by George Orwell – A book that becomes more incredible each year for its sheer understanding of human nature: we love Big Brother so much we even pay for the screens...
- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – When I was young I yearned to be the second Mr de Winter: now I only want to be Rebecca.
- The Didakoi by Rumer Godden – So far beyond its time in the understanding of exclusion, bullying, and racism. A comment on the exact little England I grew up in.
Claire Fuller didn’t start writing until she was 40. She’s the author of Our Endless Numbered Days (winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize), Swimming Lessons, and most recently, Bitter Orange.
Naming my top five books ever was the hardest thing to do. At first I came up with a top 20 or so and had to whittle it down. In the end the books that have remained are ones that I can read again and again and still find new things to love. They are books that have a strong story but also beautiful writing. A couple of them have rather bizarre goings-on, while others are sad, tragic, and scary. They all have tremendous characters that you'll care about, even if you might not like them. I'd recommend every one, and of course, the other 15 or so, that I couldn't include.
- We Have Always Live in the Castle by Shirley Jackson - This is one of the first books that inspired me to try and write. Imagine two eccentric old ladies living in a falling-down house. This is the story of when they were young.
- The Road by Cormac McCarthy - A spare, harrowing, yet tender novel about a father and son walking to the sea after an apocalyptic event. I love post-apocalyptic fiction and this is the pinnacle.
- Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - This is a series of interlinked stories which all feature Olive Kitteridge, a retired school teacher. Strout has made this grumpy, awkward woman so utterly real, she could walk off the page.
- A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr - Tom Birkin looks back to a time when he was restoring a wall painting in a rural Yorkshire church. A melancholy flows through all the writing, but there is still hope, and kindness.
- Who was Changed and Who was Dead by Barbara Comyns - This might not be the perfect book, but I love it for its oddness and its dark humour, and because it was one of the first books my husband recommended to me. In an English village people start going mad; could it be something in the bread?
Award-winning, bestselling novelist Julie Cohen is the author of Together and Dear Thing, both Richard and Judy Book Club picks. She is Vice President of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Her latest novel is Louis and Louise. Photo: Stewart Smith
- Watership Down by Richard Adams - The Odyssey. With rabbits. This book makes you look at the world with wonder, which is the greatest gift a book can give.
- Middlemarch by George Eliot - Every time I re-read Middlemarch, I am astonished by the scope of it, the ambition, the utter control.
- The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K LeGuin - The most fascinating examination of personhood I’ve ever read: a science fiction book about a planet where the inhabitants change gender.
- The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - This book is the reason why I did an English degree and came to live in the UK. Still obsessed by it.
- Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes - This book proved to me that popular fiction can tackle the darkest of subjects with grace and humour.
Carol Drinkwater is an Anglo-Irish writer, actress and filmmaker. Her books set on her Olive Farm have sold over a million copies worldwide. Her most recent novel, The Lost Girl, was a LoveReading Book of the Year. The House on the Edge of the Cliff will be published in May 2019.
My top five books in no particular order are:
- The Lover by Marguerite Duras - Based on her own story. Beautifully written, heartbreaking, erotic. A powerful account of an adolescent girl's forbidden affair in 1930s Saigon with a rich Chinese man.
- My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier - I might have chosen anything by Du Maurier. Atmospheric, vivid and suspenseful writing by an author at the height of her powers.
- The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood - Brilliant. I read it when it was first published. Then, it was dystopian literature at it finest. Today, it seems haunting and visionary
- The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende - Another favourite author of mine. Such range and depth of emotion, full of wit and history and heart and soul. An epic novelist.
- The Quiet American by Graham Greene - Greene was master storyteller who, I believe, changed the way we perceive the world. History, politics and personal relationships perfectly interwoven. Prophetic. A masterpiece.
What Would your five be? Let us know in the comments below!
We hope you enjoyed the first in a series of features for our blog, compiling great lists of books, authors and themes we love. Down the side of the page is our complete list of books, ranked by number of votes then alphabetically - What a reading list!
Thanks again to everyone who contributed to our first ever roundup and we can't wait to hear your thoughts on our future topics. Next on the list is Best Kids Books Ever... How will we possibly choose? Best get debating with ourselves!