The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge – 20th Century Reader

This year I am taking part in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022, hosted here. There are six different levels to aim for, and they are:

  • 20th Century Reader – 2 books
  • Victorian Reader – 5 books
  • Renaissance Reader – 10 books
  • Medieval – 15 books
  • Ancient History – 25 books
  • Prehistoric – 50+ books

Since historical fiction books are often chunky beasts, and since I don’t want to read only historical fiction this year, I’m going to aim for the Renaissance Reader level. I’ve now hit the 20th Century Reader level, and here are the books I read…

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

You know how I was saying historical fiction books are chunky? This one is 897 pages. It spans the years 997 to 1006, so it’s all Anglo Saxons, Normans and Vikings. It follows a boatbuilder, a noblewoman and a monk as their lives intertwine, and they contend with a Machiavellian bishop.

There’s a lot to like about this novel. It has a consistently engaging plot, full of twists, turns and intrigue. It doesn’t present a sanitised version of the past (slaves are pimped out, criminals are castrated) and there’s no silly straightwashing either (one of the main characters is gay and there are plenty of other queer characters).

Unfortunately, the depth of world-building and plot leaves the characters looking rather shallow, and I wanted more nuance from them. Also, I’m not entirely sold on Ken Follett’s style – too much exposition made me feel like I was getting a history lesson at times. I enjoyed reading this book, but it didn’t linger in my mind afterwards.

The Fortune of War by Patrick O’Brian

I can’t write anything sensible about Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series because I love it too much. Instead, here are my five favourite things about this novel (mild SPOILERS):

  1. Jack Aubrey’s hat gets eaten by a wombat in chapter one. Stephen Maturin is more concerned with his wombat’s digestion than Jack’s hat. These books are so f*cking funny and I always forget that until I start reading one.
  2. There are a couple of actual, honest-to-God murders. In a series full of battles and bloodshed, these somehow manage to be shocking.
  3. Jack and Stephen call each other “brother” all the time, which I guess is just the 19th century equivalent of “bro”, but it hits those found-family feels all the same.
  4. Stephen’s relationship with Diana Villiers is … rekindled? No, not exactly. Interesting stuff happens.
  5. The battles. OMG, the battles.

I need three more hist fic books to reach the Victorian Reader level, and any recommendations will be gratefully received. Is anyone else doing the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge?

2021 Wrap-up

Hi friends, welcome to 2022! I hope your hangovers aren’t too bad and your new year’s resolutions aren’t broken yet.

To be honest, 2021 was a more challenging year for me than 2020. During 2020 I was mostly a smug introvert, making the most of lockdown by reading a lot, learning coin tricks and getting worryingly obsessed with MMA. But 2021 has been a rollercoaster, with some high points (publications, a new baby niece) and some low points (a break-up, a bereavement).

Here’s a sum-up of my 2021 writing and reading adventures:

Publishing

After publishing absolutely nothing last year, I managed to publish two books this year! The first was my debut novel, Other People’s Butterflies, published by Art Over Chaos. It’s a YA contemporary about identity, friendship, and trying to understand the world around you. Also 1940s spy shenanigans.

I got my first reviews, my first royalties, signed a few copies (one of them was actually for a fan rather than a family member!) and generally felt very much like a Proper Writer. I hope people continue to read it through 2022 but in order for that to happen I’ll have to get my arse in gear and actually do some marketing.

My second publication was a poetry chapbook called Monster Hunting for Girls Ages 8-14, published by Dancing Girl Press. It’s about the monsters that plague us during childhood and early adolescence, and the slow process of befriending them, defeating them, or learning to live with them.

Writing

Fiction-wise, I recently finished a 16,000 word sci-fi story called Goons. It’s weird, character-based, and contains the most dysfunctional found family I could dream up. It turns out that 16,000 word sci-fi stories are difficult to find a home for, so I’m thinking of publishing this on my blog.

Poetry-wise, I finished another chapbook called 16 Flavours of Ghost. It’s a bunch of character poems, each one from the perspective of a ghost. They’re a spirited bunch, with a lot to say about life despite being dead. I’m hoping to get some interest from chapbook publishers and I’m waiting to hear back from two of them, so wish me luck!

Reading

I read 21 books in 2021, which is pretty poor by my standards. I’ll aim for at least 24 this year, since 2 per month is usually do-able for me. I’ll also aim to keep reading plenty of fabulous indie and self-published books. As for 2021, my Book of the Year Award* goes to…

HMS Expedient by Peter Smalley. I couldn’t quite believe I was reading a nautical adventure and not wishing it was a Patrick O’Brian. I will definitely be following the careers of Captain Rennie and Lieutenant Hayter in future.

Thanks for reading my lovelies. Roll on 2022!

*Not an actual award. Book chosen was not published in 2021. Purely a reflection of what Cora likes best rather than objective quality.

Hyping Every Indie Book I’ve Read This Year

This year I’ve made an effort to read more indie-published and self-published books, and there have been some absolute gems. If you’re book shopping for Christmas, do consider adding one (or more) of these to your basket.

This entire list is very queer, particularly in terms of asexual and aromantic representation, but also other LGBT+ identities. If that’s your cup of tea, read on!

Common Bonds by Various authors

I’m being cheeky by including this, as one of the stories in this anthology (Spacegirl and the Martian) is mine. This Kickstarter-funded anthology is full of SFF stories focusing on aromantic protagonists and platonic relationships.

There are honestly some real treasures in here, with my personal favourite being Cinder – a witty, empowering fairytale re-telling that captures the joy and excitement of new friendship. There’s also an astronaut bonding with her dad in space, and two werewolf stories because aro people evidently love werewolves!

Create My Own Perfection by E.H. Timms

This short story is a re-telling of the Medusa myth, set at a university full of mythological beings. It uses the ancient tale to explore the ever-current issue of sexual harassment, and also shows the sharper edges of female friendship. Emma isn’t just kind and supportive to her friends – she’s also willing to do whatever it takes to defend them.

The Murder Next Door by Sarah Bell

Want to read about a sapphic couple solving a murder mystery in 1912? Of course you do! Sarah Bell’s debut is full of rich historical detail, and the central pairing of Ada and Louisa are brought vividly to life.

Despite the period setting, don’t expect a traditional “whodunnit”. The emphasis is less on who did the deed, and more on the meaty, nuanced issue of whether or not they deserve to be punished for it.

The Mesmerist’s Daughter by Heidi James

Good lord, the writing in this one is extraordinary! An unreliable, but highly observant narrator tells the story of a child whose mother is a wolf. Not literally. But maybe literally? Full of magic, but the kind of magic you get in horror movies rather than fairytales.

Streetlamps and Shepherd Moons by Katherine Highland

Streetlamps and Shepherd Moons is a slice-of-life novel that focuses on Diane – an autistic woman – and her attempts to navigate a confusing and sometimes hostile world. It’s an authentic, unfiltered take on autistic life that’s both thoughtful and thought-provoking.

This certainly isn’t a comfort read. Diane has an awful lot to deal with (often neurotypicals being clueless) but her difficulties and dramas are counterbalanced by the warmth of everyday comforts and human connection. The book is ultimately a celebration of creating the life you want and finding the people who matter.

The Dragon of Ynys by Minerva Cerridwen

Now this one is a comfort read. It’s a short and sweet story of a knight, a dragon, and a baker’s wife teaming up to search for the missing baker, and finding adventure and friendship along the way. It’s like those books about dragons you used to read as a kid, but with added LGBTQIA rep!

Any of these sparking your interest? And have you read any awesome indie books this year? Feel free to rave about them in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday – Bookish Pet Peeves

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future weeks’ topics can be found here. This week’s topic is…

Bookish Pet Peeves

I’m usually an over-enthusiastic fangirl when it comes to books. I’m much more inclined to rave about the stuff I love than rant about the stuff I hate, but here’s the perfect excuse to have a good old bitch. My pet peeves are pretty varied, but a lot of them can be lumped into the two categories of “annoying romance stuff” and “annoying sexist stuff”.

  1. Mary Sue characters

To clarify, I’m not using “Mary Sue” the way dude-bros on the internet use it, i.e. to describe a female character who is very powerful, succeeds where male characters fail, or just gets shit done.

I mean a female character who is completely perfect in an unrealistic and unsatisfying way. She has no flaws and no depth. She gets everything she wants despite never thinking of herself because of course she’s utterly selfless. Give me female characters who are relatable, real, and complex.

2. “Love interest” characters

Characters that exist purely to be a romantic fantasy always have me rolling my eyes. If a character has no personality beyond being charming, and no motivation beyond fulfilling the protagonist’s every desire, they might as well be a sexy robot.

3. The word “chuckle”

OK, maybe this one is just me, but I find it grating when characters chuckle. I feel like a chuckle is a very specific type of laugh, belonging mainly to elderly men. But so many writers seem to rely on it as the only way of conveying mild amusement.

4. Zero conflict

You know when a book has zero conflict and everyone is thoroughly decent and communicates properly at all times and the world is safe and peaceful and the book is basically like a big warm hug? I don’t like it.

Don’t get me wrong – I can absolutely see the value of these books. But I tend to find them a bit bland and cloying. A book like a warm hug is all very well, but I want a book that will hug me and also punch me in the stomach. Yep, I’m a weirdo.

5. Only one (1) female character

I like to think this trend is dying out, but it used to be common in SFF. Despite women making up half the population, it apparently made sense to have just the one female character. And she would do female things like being alluring, sleeping with the protagonist, and wearing sexy armour.

6. Everyone must be coupled up at the end

Readers like romance, right? So you should have as much of it as possible, right? So every character should end up in a long-term relationship, thereby implying that romantic partnership is the only “happily ever after” that exists, right? Bleurgh. Let some characters stay single.

7. Baddie does bad things because he’s bad

Cartoonish villains who are evil because they like being evil have their place, but that place is generally in pantomimes and Disney films. Antagonists are an ideal vessel for exploring the darker side of human nature, and it always feel like a missed opportunity when a writer fails to address their motivation.

8. Flowery descriptions of eyes

We’ve all seen the jokes about male writers being obsessed with their female characters’ tits (“She breasted boobily down the stairs”) but I feel like a lot of female writers have an equally weird obsession with eyes.

An attractive character’s eyes will never just be “blue” or “dark”- they have to be “cerulean” or “obsidian”. And they’re always doing stuff like flashing, or smouldering, or turning the colour of storm clouds, or being windows to the soul. Calm down love, they’re just blobs of jelly.

9. Women in refrigerators/Bury your gays

“Women in refrigerators” is a term from comic book fandom to describe how female characters are frequently murdered in order to motivate the male protagonist and move the story forward. “Bury your gays” is a similar trope that treats LGBT+ characters as disposable. Both leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

10. Human characters growling

I get it. It’s supposed to be erotic and intense. It’s supposed to hint at untamed emotions and animalistic power roiling beneath a character’s surface. But it just seems kind of … silly.

Do any of these make your list of pet peeves? Am I on my own regarding the word “chuckle”?

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books on My Autumn 2021 To-read List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future weeks’ topics can be found here. This week’s topic is…

Top Ten Books on My Autumn 2021 To-read List

Having read a grand total of three books from my Summer 2021 TBR, I’m aiming to do much better this season. The books on my list are:

Dune by Frank Herbert

I want to read the book before I see the movie.

The Dragon of Ynys by Minerva Cerridwen

Having read and enjoyed Cerridwen’s short story Match Sticks, I thought I’d give this a try. Autumn always feels like the right time of year for dragons (not that there’s ever a wrong time of year for dragons).

How To Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran

One of my aunties has this book, and I dipped in and out of it while staying with her for a weekend, so I’m already confident it’s hilarious.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

This one has been on my bookshelf forever and I don’t know why I still haven’t read it.

Wool by Hugh Howey

According to the front cover, this is “The Next Hunger Games”. Obviously it wasn’t the next Hunger Games because Divergentwas the next Hunger Games. But I’m intrigued to know what could have been…

Create My Own Perfection

A modern-day retelling of the Medusa myth? Yes please. A modern-day retelling of the Medusa myth with an aromantic-asexual protagonist? Hades yes!

Procedures for Underground by Margaret Attwood

I’ve read plenty of her novels and short stories, but I don’t think I’ve read one single poem by Atwood. I’m starting with this collection purely because I love the front cover. Is it a woman? Is it a lobster? Who knows?

Molly’s Game by Molly Bloom

Not the kind of thing I usually read, but I found the movie fascinating.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

I’ll read anything with witches, but witches in 1893 joining forces with suffragists to get the vote? Gimme gimme.

Port Royal by Peter Smalley

I read HMS Expedient and I’m now keen to see what Captain William Rennie and Lieutenant James Hayter get up to next. Having (SPOILERS) gained a fortune and narrowly escaped death by drowning/exploding guns/volcano, I feel like they ought to take a break. I doubt they will.

Have you read any of these? And what’s on your TBR this autumn?

Top Ten Tuesday – My Ten Most Recent Reads

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future weeks’ topics can be found here. This week’s topic is…

My Ten Most Recent Reads

Between working, studying, and preparing to publish a novel (six weeks until Other People’s Butterflies gets published!) I’ve not had much time for reading, and this list takes me right back to 2020.

Educated by Tara Westover

It’s not an easy read but, despite the brutality of Westover’s upbringing, this isn’t your average misery memoir. It’s hugely insightful, and sheds light on the type of rural, religious family that’s often reduced to a caricature.

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker

I’m a relatively “unschooled” writer, so I feel like I should be reading more books like this one. It’s an unstuffy writing guide that offers lots of helpful tips for making your writing snap. But some of the grammatical stuff is pretty intimidating!

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

I loved Anne of Green Gables as a kid, but wasn’t so keen on the other books in the series. Was this because the books decrease in quality? Or did I find “grown-up” Anne less easy to relate to than Anne as a child? Definitely the latter. Anne of Avonlea is beautifully written and an ideal comfort read. Also, it turns out that “grown-up” Anne is only 16!

Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass by Lana Del Rey

If you’re a fan of Lana’s music, this is a must-read. Her poetry explores similar themes to her lyrics, but in a slightly different (perhaps more vulnerable) way.

Desolation Island by Patrick O’Brian

Hooray for reliable escapism! This is the fifth book in O’Brian’s series and has sea battles, spies, and the ever-entertaining friendship between main characters Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin (who are basically an old married couple at this point).

Common Bonds by various authors, including me!

Obviously I read my contributor’s copy of Common Bonds – an anthology of short stories and poetry centred on aromantic characters and platonic relationships. Seriously, if you’re looing for aro representation, or heart-warming stories of friendship, family, found-family and platonic partners, this is the book for you.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

SPOILERS, but I kinda wish Little Women ended halfway through. Poor Beth! And poor Jo, marrying some guy who’s twice her age and calls her stories trash!

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkein

I finally got around to reading this, and it’s not my cup of tea. I don’t mind a slow-paced story as long as there’s a lot going on inside the characters’ heads. But these guys just spend forever deciding where to walk.

The World for a Shilling by Michael Leapman

If I had a time machine, The Great Exhibition of 1851 would be my first stop. Technologies and treasures from all over the world – including a 16 foot telescope, rare diamonds, and a precursor to the fax machine – were displayed in a purpose-built “crystal palace”. The book gives a vivid impression of what it must have been like for visitors.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

A murder-mystery that wastes very little attention on the murderer and contains one of the oddest sex scenes in mainstream fiction. Come for the weirdness, stay for the heart-wrenching portrayal of loss and grief.

Okay, not a bad bunch of books. Have you read any of these? What are some of the best books you’ve read recently?

What to Read When You Don’t Have Time to Read

Grad school is kicking my arse at the moment. Juggling work and study is much harder this year because the structure of the course has changed due to COVID, and because the teachers are making up for the lack of face-to-face teaching by giving us extra homework. The end result is that I have very little time to read. A depressing state of affairs for any bookworm.

So, I’ve been thinking about the sort of thing a book lover can realistically read when she’s short of time. There’s not much point getting into a chunky historical novel or epic fantasy series, but here are some ideas for quick reads…

All the poetry! (But especially chapbooks)

Poetry can contain complex events, fully-formed characters or even entire worlds in just a few lines. Being short of time is the perfect excuse to indulge in poetry, particularly chapbooks.

In case you’re not familiar with chapbooks, these are short, pocket-sized poetry collections, often based on a specific theme. If you’re not a poetry afficionado, these are less daunting (and cheaper) than a full-length collection. Dancing Girl Press has some great ones, and they’re going to publish mine later this year. 😊

Short stories

Seriously, why don’t short stories get more love? There are some brilliant collections out there. Three of my faves are The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood, and Grand Union by Zadie Smith.

Middle Grade

MG novels are usually shorter than adult or YA novels, with brisk pacing that encourages a quick read. Trust me, some of them are every bit as good as you remember. Which brings us nicely to…

Re-reads

I’ve always found that re-reading is easy to do in short bursts. You know what’s coming next (unless you read it ages ago) so you’re less likely to read ten chapters at a time because you just have to know what happens.

Comics

It’s delicious to lose a whole afternoon to comics – getting lost in the artwork and enjoying the nuances of the story – but it’s just as fun to whiz through them like a nine-year-old who’s eaten too many Haribo.

I’m embarrassingly basic when it comes to comics, and mostly read superhero stuff (Marvel for the heroes, DC for the villains of course). Lately I’ve been loving The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá.

Audiobooks

Audiobooks must be the ultimate time saver, which is why it’s very weird that I haven’t listened to any since the 90s, when they were called “books on tape” and my mum played them to stop me complaining on long car journeys.

Now seems like the perfect time to start listening again, but I want to start with a really good one. In particular, I’m looking for something where the narration adds something to the story. Any recommendations?

Top Ten Tuesday – New-to-me Authors I Read in 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future weeks’ topics can be found here. This week’s topic is…

New-to-me Authors I Read in 2020

Since 2020 was such a clusterf*ck of a year, I did a fair bit of comfort reading. But amongst all the books by familiar old favourites, I did manage to find some new authors who I’ll be reading again.

  1. Gillian Flynn

I finally read Gone Girl and I feel like this is one of those occasions where the hype is justified. Sharp Objects is high on my TBR.

2. Lauren Groff

I read The Monsters of Templeton after my mum recommended it. Mother knows best, of course – Groff is a superb writer and the book is a great family saga with some subtle supernatural elements.

3. Nicholas Eames

Kings of the Wyld is one of the most purely fun books I read in 2020. Somebody please make this rip-roaring, daft-as-balls adventure into a movie. Or a TV show. Or both.

4. Becky Chambers

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is one of the reasons I am determined to read more sci-fi in 2021.

5. Arthur Ransome

You’re never too old for a children’s classic, and Swallows and Amazons is as classic as they get. There are twelve books in the series and I expect I’ll be dipping into it again when summer arrives.

6. Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones is such a rare thing – a book that begins with a murder and DGAF about the murderer. More victim-focussed crime books, please.  

7. Hank Green

I’d read a couple of John Greens, but this year I read An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green and found it both an excellent sci-fi and a thoughtful exploration of fame, especially “internet fame”.

Since most of the authors I’ve mentioned so far are well-known, I’m going to narrow my focus a little. I read an anthology of fairytale retellings called Unburied Fables in 2020. And while I’m always up for a fairytale retelling, I particularly enjoyed these ones because so many of the stories feature characters who, like me, are asexual or aromantic or both. The stories also have lots of other forms of LGBT+ representation.

The authors all write beautifully, so which story you would prefer probably depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re after a sweet, grounded, m/m romance, I recommend The Last Lost Boy by George Lester. If you prefer sci-fi with richly detailed world building, you’ll like The Suns of Terre by Will J. Fawley. But three authors I really hope to read again are…

(SPOILERS for these stories)

8. Laure Nepenthes

No prizes for guessing which fairytale Handsome and the Beast is based on, but it’s the first story I ever read with a “happily ever after” ending for a platonic relationship.

9. Moira C. O’Dell

O’Dell’s story Satin Skirts and Wooden Shoes is a retelling of Cinderella. I’ll never get tired of aromantic characters using magic to wriggle their way out of unwanted marriages!

10. Minerva Cerridwen

Match Sticks is waaaay less depressing than the fairytale it’s based on, and a celebration of so many different types of love and relationships.

2020 Reading Recap

There’s no getting around it – 2020 was a shit show. And books, as always, were a reliable source of comfort, escapism and inspiration. I finished 27 in total, which I know is hardly anything compared to some committed readers, but I feel like 2.25 books a month is pretty respectable.

As for the type of books I read, I did notice a couple of trends. I read more non-fiction than usual this year (inevitable for a grad student) and I read more books from series. I also stepped out of my comfort zone and read some very girly, fluffy chick lit.

My favourite/least favourite books of 2020

Maybe this makes me a basic bitch, but I finally read Gone Girl and I absolutely adored it. I want to read everything Gillian Flynn has ever written and get a tee-shirt with Amy Dunne’s “cool girl” monologue on it!

The most disappointing book I read was probably Death Comes to Pemberley. I was all set to enjoy Elizabeth and Darcy solving murder cases together, but that dream was just too good to be true. Elizabeth hardly gets a look in, and Darcy gets embroiled in a boring courtroom drama.

My reading goals for 2021

  • Read more YA. This is appalling, but I didn’t read a single YA book in 2020. I plan to make up for it in 2021.
  • Read more sci-fi. I generally lean more towards fantasy (sci-fi’s hippy older brother) but in 2021 I will give sci-fi the attention it deserves.
  • Read more indie-published/self-published books. Find hidden gems and support scrappy authors making a living outside the mainstream? Yes please.

Recommendations are very welcome. If you can recommend an indie-published or self-published YA with sci-fi elements I will be eternally grateful!

Top Ten Tuesday – Authors I’ve Read the Most Books By

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future weeks’ topics can be found here. This week’s topic is…

Authors I’ve read the most books by

I like to think I have some good qualities as a reader. I’m open-minded in terms of genre, not remotely snobby (yay for the trashiest of trashy thrillers) and won’t give up on a book just because the first chapter doesn’t grab me. But one quality I seem to lack is loyalty.

Rather than commit to an author I like, I hop around between them, never getting too invested in any of them. For some of the authors on this list, I haven’t read more than four or five of their books. But for me, that’s a big commitment! Here are my top ten…

  1. Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl probably bears at least half the responsibility for my love of reading, dark humour and female villains! As a kid, I read almost all his children’s books and could recite whole chunks of James and the Giant Peach. But my favourite was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, because chocolate.

2. Jacqueline Wilson

Maybe I was a more loyal reader as a kid, because I read heaps of Jacqueline Wilson books along with the Roald Dahls. Looking back on them, I’m really impressed that she managed to write about heavy stuff like homelessness, mental illness and eating disorders in a way that was neither overly scary nor patronising.

3. Diana Gabaldon

I rarely read long series, but I’m hooked on the Outlander novels. I’ve been reading them since I was fourteen, which is maybe too young considering all the sex, violence, sexual violence, gory surgical scenes, etc. But I’m addicted to Jamie and Claire’s adventures, and the Lord John Grey series is just as good.

4. Margaret Attwood

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale as a seventeen-year-old, and the “particicution” scene was the most disturbing thing I’d ever read. It probably still is. Luckily, this didn’t put me off Attwood’s amazing writing. I’m not sure how many of her books I’ve read, but it’s a fair few. My personal favourite is The Robber Bride.

5. Philip Pullman

The His Dark Materials trilogy is brilliant, obviously, but he’s written plenty of other fantastic books.

6. JK Rowling

To address the big, transphobic elephant in the room, I am no longer a fan of JKR. But there will always be a special place in my heart for the Harry Potter series. The books and films are pure magic, and so is the wonderful, creative, diverse fandom.

7. Nicholas Evans

I think that reading Nicholas Evans at thirteen was the first time I consciously recognised “good writing”. Specifically, I noticed his ability to get right inside the minds of his characters and give each one a distinctive voice, and was very impressed.

8. Jane Austen

Austen didn’t write many novels but I’ve read all of them. It wasn’t exactly love at first read because I used to get frustrated with the stifling, judgemental world her characters inhabit. But then I realised that in many ways, it’s not so different from 21st century Britain, and I finally started to appreciate Austen’s subtle satire.

9. Patrick O’Brian

O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series has about 20 books and I’m not even halfway through it. But I’m fully committed to finishing it because this shit is amazing! It has oodles of old-school adventure, plus brilliantly written characters, lots of humour and a complex, heart-warming central friendship.

10. Terry Pratchett

I was a latecomer to Sir Terry’s satirical fantasy. I read The Colour of Magic a few years ago and I’m still playing catch-up with his series of 41(!) Discworld novels. My favourite so far is the festive classic, Hogfather.

I’m kind of annoyed with myself that certain authors haven’t made it onto this list. Why haven’t I read more Zadie Smith? Surely Neil Gaiman should be on there? If you’ll excuse me, I have A LOT of reading to do.

Meanwhile, have you read any of these authors? Are any of them on your top ten list?