A Brief Journey through my Five Favourite Books / Series



Picture from Book Riot. This is how my bedside table looks.
I've always been a reader for as long as I can remember. I can't pinpoint the moment when I thought to myself that reading was going to be a lifelong love affair. As soon as I learned to read, I wanted to devour books. Anything from fairy tales (Cinderella was a personal favourite) to Maurice Gee's Under the Mountain, I was hooked. (Although perhaps a tad scared when I first read Under the Mountain. And I'm still terrified of scary movies and books.) Thus began a journey that continues today. I still love the thrill of cracking open a brand new book, that smell of paper and the fact I'm about to embark on a new journey to places unknown. Each page I turn is a step into another dimension; a step towards the conclusion. Sometimes it's a race to reach the end, and at other times it's a slow meander, savouring each written word.



After the jump are five of my most treasured books/series that I've read to date. Let me take you through my reading history to highlight some of the books that left an impression on me. Note there might be the odd spoiler.





Anne of Green Gables by L. M Montgomery

From Anne Shirley turning up unexpectedly, to Matthew and Marilla in her ill-fitting clothes, to her attempts to get rid of her red hair, “Red hair is my life long sorrow”, I was enchanted. Anne of Green Gables endures as one of those books that I loved in childhood.

The book sticks in my mind as it was the first book to really make me bawl my eyes out. I cannot read the book today without crying, even though I know that Matthew is going to die. I get a lump in my throat whenever I read the buildup to his death, and then the tears are already flowing before I get to the scene. The fact that "mere" words could have that impact on me, that I would feel such compassion for fictional characters, introduced me to the power that the written word can have.

I loved how Anne got into trouble (through no fault of her own, of course) primarily because her imagination ran wild. The descriptions that L.M. Montgomery conveyed through Anne's outlook on the world were both poetic and glorious. The vivid, descriptive language made me want to look at the world with different eyes and really appreciate what it had to offer. The situations she found herself in made me laugh or smirk many a time. In childhood Diana was often caught up in the shenanigans; from getting drunk on "cordial" to trying to dye her hair or change her name. She could chatter nonstop on any topic. Matthew and Marilla often shook their heads in bafflement, I'm sure, at the things that sprouted from Anne's mouth. It was quickly clear that Matthew adored her and loved her outlook on life, and Marilla, while coming across at first as more uptight, soon developed a deep love for Anne as well. Her zest for life and her passion made her a quick favourite of mine.

I identified with how stubborn she was, which is a trait we had in common. There were many times I wished I were adopted, too, when I was really angry with my family as a child (and I am sure this is not unusual). Of course, in my childhood imaginings, being adopted was much more glamorous than my own life. Perhaps my "real" parents were rich, or had a beautiful house, or would let me eat all the salt-and-vinegar chips I wanted.

I also discovered that I'm a sucker for the hate / love relationship in a story. Gilbert Blythe was an early book boyfriend of mine. He was just kind of scrumptious and I wanted to gobble him up in later books. Anne wasn't afraid to stick up for things she loved. In turn, she hated down to the very depths of her soul. I laughed out loud many a time as she tried to avoid Gilbert once he had called her “Carrots! Carrots!” , and she then smashed her slate over his head. It was wonderful how in her mind he had ceased to exist, yet she remained acutely aware of him and let him bring out the competitive nature in her. I am sure this competitiveness helped Anne to become an independent young woman as the books progressed, when she went on to have a career as a teacher.

The start of a wonderful hate / love relationship.
On Anne's side anyway.

I have read this series many times over the years, and it always leaves me with that enchanted feeling of a wonderful book: well written, humorous, serious and very much still relevant today. The television series from the 1980s did wonderful justice to a truly memorable childhood book series.

Quotes:    L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Book compilation designed by Olga Daniels.




In the Interim...

After Anne of Green Gables, I went through a phase of being addicted to the Nancy Drew Mysteries, copious numbers of abridged versions of stories, and stories in Readers Digest books, where each book tended to have four stories in it. I had an ample supply of these for some reason?? It remains a mystery to me. But I read quite a lot of war stories through this period. An avid fascination with history and WWI and WWII might have been the main instigators in the recent direction of my reading interests. I also discovered the romance novel, thanks to my Grandma. However this all led me to being sixteen and ready for the next influential book to strike me. Given my later reading habits, I would credit this as the most influential book of my life to date.

The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien

“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.”
The Hobbit started my love affair with fantasy novels. I read it during Fifth Form (Year 11) exams and was hooked. Why during exams, you might ask? Maths. Enough said. I was always a bit of a daydreamer when I was a kid. I'm not saying I was airy fairy; I just loved to play imaginary games. I could be anything from a magician to a spy to a cowgirl to a soldier. This latter one might have been influenced by appeasing my brother, as he wasn't too happy when I made him play princesses. Oops bro, did I mention that aloud? ;-) Hence when I picked up The Hobbit, it clicked with me. I've always been a bit of a shy, introverted person, and I found I could empathise with Bilbo and his desire to do something out of the ordinary.

Here was this hobbit called Bilbo Baggins, about to go on an adventure, and I wanted to be along for the ride. He wasn't a very adventurous soul, but he had that essential spark, or perhaps a Tookish spark, which meant he was prepared to go out into the world and explore. Gandalf needed a hobbit, and Bilbo was the hobbit for the job. We got to journey with Bilbo as he transformed into a more worldly soul and of course battled Gollum with riddles in order to capture THE RING!!

The Hobbit opened a window into a world I didn't know existed. A world where magic was possible; where elves, dwarfs and men worked together to create a better world. It also taught me that I love a good book revolving around the theme of good versus evil. After all, the essential element of this story is a band of fourteen going off to save Middle Earth. Not that they realised this at the time. Gandalf liked to play things close to his chest. This book has such universal appeal that it doesn't matter if you are an adult or a child, it charms you. If you haven't read it, I recommend remedying that at once. You'll be propelled into a world where your imagination has free reign, absorbed in a truly magical, memorable story.

I often refer to things from the book when talking to my children, such as second breakfast (I wish I could eat as much as a hobbit) and hobbit holes, the little huts they create to live in. I also love the fact that hobbits don't wear shoes, having been very averse to them as a child. I don't think I will mention to my children how much Bilbo liked to smoke a good pipe, though.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” 

After that, it was only a hop, skip and a jump to read The Lord of the Rings, and as they say, the rest was history.

Quotes from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

In the Interim...

This led to fantasy overload. I devoured anything by David Eddings, Raymond E Feist (whose Magician is still a firm favourite of mine), Terry Goodkind, Sara Douglass, and Robin Hobb, to name the first authors who spring to mind. I was a fantasy fanatic and proud of the fact; anything else was very difficult to pick up or find the enthusiasm to read. Other book genres? Seriously, nothing was better than fantasy, and in my humble opinion it is still my preferred book genre.

 A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin

Designed by Olga Daniels.

I've already done a blog post on this series, and it is at the very top of my list for books I will continue to read until I no longer exist on this planet. I picked up the first book, A Game of Thrones, in the 1990s and never looked back. I pimped it out to friends and spread the love for a book, and now a series, that would captivate me for well over a decade. Time has not diminished my love of the series, although I do wish George R.R. Martin would write more quickly.

I love how he sucks readers in, so they are completely invested in the characters' fortunes, and keeps them turning pages frantically to find out whether their favourites remain alive and in one piece. Of course the dreaded cliffhanger ends every book. Martin excels at crafting those, which is clearly, it seems to me, a reflection of his screenwriting background. When a television episode ends, the show's creators want to keep viewers on the edge of their seats so they will tune in for next season / episode. Martin loves ending each book with a surprising death or the looming question of whether a character will make it to the next round. Of course, the last book he published, A Dance With Dragons, did this brilliantly, and a fan favourite is in a very perilous state now, with the question very much up in the air as to whether that character is dead or alive. No one is safe, and that's exactly how Martin likes it. I confess I love it too. I like thinking no one is safe. The characters live in perilous times, and it is unrealistic to think everyone would get out alive. I also hate watching TV series where the writers aren't prepared to kill people off. I bow to you too, Downton Abbey, for having the guts to do this.

Martin can seem merciless with the axe, and part of the anticipation is not knowing how things are going to turn out. There are characters I've clearly wanted dead over the years. Yes, dear Cersei, you have been on that list for many years. There are characters for whom I've shouted, "NOOOOOOOO, how could you kill them?!?" As tragedy after tragedy has been heaped upon the heads of the House of Stark, I've wanted to bundle those Stark children into a safe cocoon and let them know it is going to be okay in the end. It is, isn't it? You have to assure me it will be. I know that everything must be part of the overall plan, but sometimes I'm left wondering what the end game is. There are now so many chess pieces on the board that it is hard to envision the conclusion. We could easily clear a few off: There are players still around I'd be happy to behead myself. Just hand me a sword.

Right, I've knocked a few off in my mind. *cough Daenerys cough* Each twist is part of the Game of Thrones, as each player battles to play it better than the competitors. Littlefinger seemed an astute player for a long time. But, like so many characters, he has a fatal flaw. A woman. I think this flaw will be his undoing. Other characters have gone from strength to strength: Jaime, Brienne, Arya (I think this playing piece is merely getting ready for the next phase in the fight), and Sansa. Yet one wrong action scatters the playing pieces across the board, until Martin reassembles them as the game swiftly changes direction. I think the series is exactly like a game and very aptly named. As you know, when playing a game, one strategic move or one unforeseen event can instantly change the political landscape.

Martin has created what I consider to be one of the great masterpieces of fantasy writing. I love world building, and there is nothing like creating a medieval, European backdrop to have me knocking on the door. Do I love swords? Yes, I do. Do I love multiple points of view? Yes, I do. Am I sticking around for more? Yes, please.

In the Interim...

Still living in my fantasy land for the majority of my reading, with the odd historical novel thrown in for good measure.  

Wait! Stop the Press! Shocking confession ahead.......


Barney, I know. I know. This era was also peppered with a lot of trashy Regency romances. Red faced, I've confessed my dirty little secret to the world. I loved trashy, tacky Regency romances. I read a lot of them and I liked them. That was until a little gem arrived and altered my romance-reading landscape.

Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris
Designed by Olga Daniels.

The Southern Vampire Mysteries (SVM) captured my imagination from the first chapter. I had never heard of Charlaine Harris until the television show True Blood started. Thanks, True Blood, for helping me find my second natural habitat in the reading landscape. It's probably all I can thank True Blood for, besides the delicious Alexander Skarsgard. I confess it was a look that Eric gave Sookie in episode 3 of Season 2, after the maenad attack, that made me purchase a book set immediately after the episode concluded. This glimmer of something perked my interest, as I suddenly thought sexy, tall, blonde, Viking Eric might be the perfect match for our Sookie, and I had found a reason to ditch the suspicious Bill Compton.

I waited anxiously for my books to arrive, and when they did I devoured the series and thought, "Hell this is a lot better than the TV show." At that point there were 8 books in the set, and each book was action packed. There was always a mystery to solve, and big-hearted Sookie was at the centre of the action. The whole series being told from Sookie's point-of-view made me love her. I could see how she interacted with the world around her as the supernatural world was divulged before her eyes. Telepathy a curse? Hell no, it was an asset. I laughed and cried with her. I was fearful for her and wanted everything to be okay for her. If I could have fought by her side I would have. Of course, my preferred supernatural identity would have been vampire.

As the suitors have come and gone, I've had fun dissecting and discounting them. Quinn is forever etched in my brain as the wearer of the genie pants, and that decidedly unsexy image stuck with me every time he was on the page. When he licked Sookie's leg I thought, "ewwwww girlfriend, I hope he isn't a romantic interest for you." I've adored Sam since the beginning. That boy-next-door kind of charm, he was just lovely and I guess I like lovely people. Alcide I quite liked in Club Dead, but he turned into a douche bag. Sorry Anne Kenzie, but I still think Joe Manganiello is delicious. Thank goodness, because all that sexy werewolf might have been hard to resist. I think part of the charm of the series is that we still don't know who Sookie will end up in the end, if she ends up with any "romantic" interest at all.

Charlaine has the fabulous storytelling skill of being able to successfully weave together so many different elements — paranormal, romance, mystery, action — that the books aren't confined to a particular genre. My two favourite books remain Dead to the World and All Together Dead. I can't wait to find out how it all concludes in the last book, Dead Ever After , in May 2013. I'm hoping Sookie ends up with Eric, but I also know that Charlaine Harris will do Sookie Stackhouse justice in the end.

In the Interim...

There actually wasn't a whole lot of reading going on at this point in my life, as I was busy being a mother, working full time and trying to juggle everything. I just read new books that came out in my favourite series, and a lot of Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy and Thomas the Tank Engine. Which kind of seems odd given that the next influential book I discovered was m/m. Some genius introduced me to that genre (and you know who you are), and my old favourites, trashy Regency romances, never walked out of a library with me again.

Soldiers – Special Forces by Aleksandr Voinov, Vashtan and  Marquesate

I picked up Soldiers this year, mainly because it was a free read and it was recommended to me after I had enjoyed another brilliant series called Psycops, by Jordan Castillo Price. I was a bit apprehensive, as I was still very new to the m/m genre. To say I was completely blown away by this book is an understatement. It is part of a trilogy, but I personally feel the first book Soldiers is by far the best. I was surprised that I enjoyed the story so much, given that there are rape and torture to deal with early in the book. The novel is set against the rugged backdrop of Afghanistan starting in the 1980s as that tortured nation fights the to expel its Soviets invaders. The scope of the story left me breathless. It was over 600 pages long and took a considerable number of late-night readings to complete. Luckily, I had toothpicks on hand to keep my eyes open, as the story engrossed me so much I had to keep turning the pages. I might also mention that the sex was very, very scorching.

The central characters, Vadim, a Soviet soldier, and Dan, a British SAS soldier, slowly chipped away to a place in my subconscious where I wanted them to be together against insurmountable odds. Vadim was not a very enticing character to start with. I was honestly surprised that he turned out to be a love interest in the book. He lived a rough army lifestyle and liked the control he could exert over subordinates. Army life was tough. Shortages of food, the killing of women, children, livestock and the constant uncertainty that war brings were part of everyday life. Dan was the enemy. He wasn't "supposed" to be in Afghanistan helping the warlords fight against the Soviets. He was an invisible man; capture would mean certain torture and eventual death. Thus the book set up a couple of key elements for me. It had that great ingredient called hate / love. And it had war. Mix the two together, plus some man loving, and I was consumed by it.

The action was heightened by the fact that Vadim and Dan often endured long separations, and things were incredibly intense and emotional when they were together. For me, the strength of this novel was how the evolving relationship of these two characters helped them endure the hellish conditions in which they found themselves. Deprivation and hardship were part of the landscape they existed in; finding each other enabled them to cope with all they faced. Together they helped keep each other alive when they would have died otherwise. In that mountainous land, it must have been comforting to know that there was someone who cared whether you lived or died, who counted the hours until the next time you could be together.

The authors made me feel for the characters. If I can feel for them and want to stop their suffering or fight their battles for them, then they have pulled me into their story. I didn't think I would love Soldiers as much as I did, but Vadim and Dan remain two of my favourite m/m characters by miles. As I mentioned, there are three books in this series, but I think the other two have nothing on this one. Called Mercenaries and Veterans, they tended to make me angry and want to throw things. Not a good look. All I will say on that matter is freakin' fake Frenchie. Enough said.

Book cover from www.aleksandrvoinov.com


In Conclusion...

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my five favourite books / series, how I came to treasure them and still leaf through them today. There seems to be a natural progression to my interests over the years, except perhaps for Soldiers. Perhaps I can blame that one on the Readers Digest war stories I read years ago? I love all these books, and the fantasy element remains a strong focus in books I enjoy today. Hence I read a reasonable amount of paranormal romance / fantasy. Sure I've read a lot more than what I've mentioned here, but there are books that stick with us throughout life, that we find ourselves thinking about even when we aren't reading them. For me, that is what differentiates the truly great books from all the others. And these five books are truly great books for me.  

Do you have a favourite book / series that sticks with you? I would love to hear below if you do. Perhaps you have one in common with me?
gifs courtesy of Photobucket.

Comments

  1. Several of these would be on my list as well, Angela! Like you, I gravitated to fantasy as soon as I discovered it when I was very young. I realize though that I’ve never read Anne of Green Gables! I feel so ashamed to admit that! A Wrinkle in Time is what launched me into fantasy, then Out of the Silent Planet introduced me to science fiction. Dune stayed at the top of my list for decades, after I discovered it in high school. And then Sookie, Fever, and Outlander recently brought me back from my boring non-fiction world into the fantasy genre again.

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    1. Kathi I think I originally only read Anne of Green Gables due to the tv show. I confess I don't read much non-fiction. I can't seem to find the same excitement for it, but it is great for putting me to sleep. ;).

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  2. Special Forces was my first m/m read. And it scarred me for life! But I loved every minute of it. And I hate Jean with a passion. I want to gut that man. Grrrrr. My other favorite series is Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R. Ward, Cut & Run by Abigail Roux, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew series which were the first two series I ever read as a child and remain close to my heart, PsyCops by Jordan Castillo Price is just freaking brilliant. I have several more but they are mainly m/m which is all I read anymore.

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    1. I can't believe you read Soldiers as your first m/m ready. I had the more gentle BDB and Cut and Run to ease me into it before I tackled Soldiers. I can't say enough about how great Soldiers is. Mainly because it ripped my heart out and tried to shove it back in.

      I loved Nancy Drew too. I read quite a few of them when I was about 11 and 12.

      Psycops is absolutely brilliant. I really loved them too. I read a great variety now. M/M is kind of my romance novels that I read now instead of some of the great literary masterpieces of Regency romance I use to read. Blushing now.

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  3. David Eddings is the only reason I knew what a maenad was in the Sookie books (there's a very important dryad in the Belgariad series!).

    You've really got me to thinking about the different books/series I've read over the years that made a big impact on me, and that I still think about whether I re-read them every few years or not.

    Ask Me If I Care by H.B. Gilmour is one book from my teens that I re-visit every few years; and I've never run into anyone else who's read it. I think it has one of the steamiest "non-sex" scenes for a YA book!

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    1. I've never read that book Veronica Ask Me If I Care. It must be good. You will have to do a top 5 list in the future. David Eddings was just wonderful. I haven't read him since my teens , but at the time they were really influencial on my reading material. It was quite easy to narrow down to 5 books, however I think it would have been a lot harder if the list was ten as I would have had a hard time skuttling some.

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  4. Loved this Angela! You know Lord of the Rings and Sookie are two of my favorites also. I'm not done with Ice and Fire yet, but I think that will probably among my favorite series as well.

    I, too, am ashamed to say that I have not read Anne of Green Gables. I think after Annie, I was traumatized and didn't want to read anything else with my name in it. I'll have to try to get to those some day.

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    1. Yay Anne, yes I did now. Glad you are loving ASOIF. LOL re being to traumatised to read Anne of Green Gables. They are pretty quick books to read and I still laugh when I read them.

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  5. Great post, Angela. :)

    Our literature paths have been soooo similar! I started out loving books like The Hobbit and LOTR and the Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter and Terry Brooks books. I actually read The Hobbit and LOTR at a very young age too.

    I also was a big reader for Harlequin romance novels...especially Harlequin historicals.

    I progressed from there to Twilight when it first came out and that led me to the Sookie Stackhouse books and then on to Fever and Black Dagger Brotherhood and Cut and Run.

    I'm currently reading Soldiers and if it wasn't for a fanfiction addiction (thanks currently to Supernatural and Destiel) I'd probably be getting done with it a lot sooner. :)

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    1. Lisa, I knew we were separated and destined to find each other. Yes our paths have been very similar. I enjoyed Harry Potter too and just feel fantasy is my natural home. I promise I do try to read other stuff. :)

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