22 Feb 2015

Hidden Treasures - My Top 10 Lesser Known Books

Lists of bloggers' Top 10 Favourite books are very common - I've done it for kids books but not adult (well aside from this and this). In this post I wanted to highlight some books and authors that I've really enjoyed but for various reasons aren't quite as well known. They're a mix of fiction genres, aside for one non fiction title, but I guess a common theme in them all is .... expect the unexpected....Here they are in no particular order:

City of Women - David Gilham

Fiction - Gilham turns the standard WW2 novel on its head with his lyrical, fast paced but tightly written debut novel set in Berlin in 1943. With most of the men at war, this casts a light on life for the women left behind - and one in particular. Tired of being bound to the morality of the time, Sigrid Schroder finds herself caught up in the war in an entirely different way.
Will I like it? If you like deftly plotted thrillers with an eye for period detail and a good anti-hero(ine) then yes. If you like WW2 fiction, this is a bit different. I think David Gilham is one to watch!
What else will I like? Alternative WW2 fiction is Sian Busby's neat thriller A Commonplace Killingset in London in 1946. There is also the gruelling and not-for-the-faint-hearted The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell.

Home - Julie Myerson

Non Fiction - the strapline for this book is "the story of everyone who ever lived in our house" but it is so much more than that. Myerson, a talented fiction author researched the history of everyone who ever lived in her South London terraced house and then created a unique and magical blend of fact and fiction in this book. It not only builds a picture of south London over the last 150 years, but also elaborates on what we mean by the words "home" and "house". 
Will I like it? This is one for anyone who has ever stood in a place and felt the `hum` of years past and people long gone, I was really spell-bound by this slow burn non fiction work. 
What else will I like? You should try her fiction. She has a luminous, magical prose - in the dreamy  but chilling Out of Breath and the rather more harrowing Something Might Happen.

Fairy Tale - Alice Thomas Ellis

Fiction. This does what it says on the tin. Ellis' ethereal writing is fantastic in this eerie short novel set in Wales. Eloise, our protagonist is desperate for a baby. With her husband not around much, after a visit from 4 strange men, Eloise returns from a walk with a baby.....and then things get a bit odd....
Will I Like It? I don't know is the honest answer. I've not met many people who've read this book, but those who have, have enjoyed it. It's not quite like anything else out there. It is truly a fairy story for adults and those fascinated by Changeling myths will love it.
What else will I like? If you like her style, then anything else by ATE. Also try Julie Myerson's Out of Breath as mentioned above.

Illumination Night - Alice Hoffman

Fiction. This is the most perfectly written book I've ever read. It may not be my favourite, but it is a masterpiece in how to write a compelling piece of fiction. Hoffman's style is similar to that of Ann Tyler but with a touch of magic. Telling the story of Jody, looking after her grandmother on Martha's Vineyard, this novel touches on isolation, first love, adolescence and the nature of our relationships. It packs a lot into its scant 208 pages.
Will I like it? If you like cinematic prose, american domesticity and characters that walk off the page and into your head then yes. Scenes from this book have stayed with me many years after my first reading. 
What else will I like? The River King is probably Hoffman's most beautiful novel, and she is most famous for Practical Magic but The Dovekeepers completely and utterly blew me away - Hoffman's style was made for this biblical tale of motherhood and love.

Engleby - Sebastian Faulks

Fiction. Think you know Sebastian Faulks? Think again. As much as I enjoyed his war fiction, Engleby  is his most underrated work of fiction. Imagine being inside the mind of a semi-sociopathic Adrian Mole  - Faulks brings us the story of Michael Engleby, besotted with another student at Cambridge...and what happens when she disappears. 
Will I like it? Touching on themes of masculinity, isolation and unrequited love - but also capturing perfectly the class divide of the time but with deft black humour, this is a great read.
What else will I like? Julian Fellowes' Past Imperfect for its illustration of the class divide and again a male protagonist who is a little 'off'.

The Rapture - Liz Jensen

Fiction. This book is unique. I mean where else have you read about a psychopathic teenager who is able to predict the future and the coming of the end of the world? I know, it sounds crazy. But it's bloody brilliant - an apocalyptic tale that references environmental events, TV evangelists and physics - the last few pages of this novel are unlike anything else I've ever read!
Will I like it? Jensen's writing style is assertive and acerbic and her stories are masterfully told and gripping. You may not like it but you'll be compelled to get to the end dammit, to know who is telling the truth!
What else will I like? If you like her style after reading this, then you'll devour the rest of Jensen's work - famous for Louis Drax, but War Crimes for the Home is better IMO.

A Company of Liars - Karen Maitland

Fiction. I couldn't have a list without historical fiction and Maitland's Company of Liars was gripping reading. A tale of a group of misfits fleeing the plague, unaware that a much greater danger is within them, this tale, cliche as it may be, had shivers running up my spine. It's also great for shedding light on the a period of history not much loved by novelists but Maitland has a great eye for period detail and brought the 1300s to life for me.
Will I like it? If you like a magical plot that builds suspense to a masterful climax (!) then yes. It's not the fastest of books but the turns of phrase and descriptions are very entertaining.
What else will I like? Maitland's other novels are good reads but none quite manage the perfection of Liars -  The Owl Killers is worth a try. Also in a simillar vein is the Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin which has a more engaging protagonist.

The Way The Crow Flies - Ann-Marie MacDonald

Fiction. This is a big, long book. But it is beautifully paced and a novel in the traditional sense of the word. It's not for everyone but MacDonald's fluid, light style casts everything and everyone in her novel into a dreamy golden haze - which makes her tale of murder and morality sent in Canada during the Cold War all the more mesmerizing. 
Will I like it? If you're a fan of the great American (Canadian...) novel, then yes. For fans of true Americana such as Of Mice and Men and To Kill A Mockingbird. Although the story is very different, the perception of the world through a child's eyes will mean you enjoy this novel.
What else will I like? As above really. It's a bit of a tricky one. Maybe Ann Tyler for the dreamy quality of writing. Post war Americana I'm not expert on sadly. Any recommends for me? 

Season of the Witch - Natasha Mostert

Fiction. I'm not a fan of the paranormal and although I like a dash of magic in my fiction, I like it rooted in the domestic and familiar. This book is none of those but I really, really enjoyed it! I was intrigued by premise of 'remote viewing' and then, much like Gabriel in the book, I was bewitched by Monk House and its gothically seductive inhabitants. It is bonkers and the ending could have done with tighter editing, but this was a great, entertaining thriller.
Will I like it? If you like the paranormal, mysticism, richly evocative writing and an intriguing love triangle yes. This is not the best written book on this list but it was a fun ride. It is also award winning, so it's not just me.
What else will I like? Not quite in the same vein but if you're a fan of paranormal gothic thrillers then you may enjoy Joanne Harris (Chocolat) 's little known first novel Sleep Pale Sister and also the spellbinding Her Fearful Symmetry from Audrey Niffenegger (author of The Time Traveller's Wife).

Ladder of Years - Ann Tyler

Fiction. The tale of an ordinary woman, simply getting up and walking away from her family on a busy American beach - and then setting up a new life, I adore this tale of identity and domesticity. What it means to wear the labels mother and wife and their places in society - then and now. Can we ever truly shake them off? Or are they in us in the marrow of our bones? Ann Tyler is renowned as a very skilled author indeed.
Will I like it? If you've ever wondered what it would be like to simply up and leave, then this book does it for you. It'll make you think and wonder and value yourself and your family. And it'll make you smile.
What else will I like? Anything else by Tyler for that small-town American feel, that thoughtfulness and humour. Also worth trying Elizabeth Berg - although her writing is slightly 'sweeter' and Alice Hoffman as above. 

Phew, that was a long post! I'd love to hear your lesser known faves, so please let me know in the comments below. And if I've persuaded you to read any of the above, I want to know what you think. Don't forget you can hit me up on twitter  - @stupidgirl45

Thank you and goodnight,

Stupidgirl has left the building

PS Sorry for the crappy formatting on this, blogger was playing up....

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