The Top 20 – or what I could fit into a shoulderbag, if I had to.

I’m unashamedly cheating this week–in two ways, as this should have been posted three or four days ago, so it’s really last week’s, and I’m also recycling material… Quite a lot of my friends on Facebook are doing the Book Cover challenge, where you post a picture of the cover of a favourite book, every day for seven days. I rose to the challenge because I love to bang on about the books I love, and I am often stuck for something to say to connect with my loved ones. So I quickly selected my top seven.

But.

That left soooooo many books neglected on my shelves. And if the house was on fire, and computer, family and cats were safe (not in that order, obviously), surely I would have time to save more than seven??? After chatting with a few mad book lovers like myself, we decided to create our top twenty books, as seven just doesn’t seem enough.

And so I decided I would share these with you, the world. It’s just a list of the twenty books I would buy first if the worst happened and I had to replace my library, or the twenty books I would shove into a sizeable shoulder bag if things got serious.

But in no particular order….because you can’t choose between your babies, right?

  1. Danger Point by Patricia Wentworth. Why? a) I love old-school murder mysteries especially romantic ones such as Wentworth used to write. b) This one cost me a fair bit as it’s quite old and gorgeous now, and I love it. c) Unusually, it’s about a heroine in an unhappy marriage. (Spoiler – soz!)
  2. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. Nothing to do with sexy goings-on and shenanigans, it’s a clever and hilarious novel about a society that is halting the relentless progress of technology, and has a new take on social divisions. My particular favourite moment is where some of the characters help out at an accident in the street, then give each other feedback on their performance.
  3. Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. I really like Umberto Eco’s works, and have quite a few of his books, but this is the one I come back to again and again, even more so than The Name of The Rose. With more historical facts and conspiracies than all of Dan Brown\’s books put together, this is the book for challenging your brain.
  4. Death Comes As The End by Agatha Christie. Again, as a mystery aficionado, it’s no surprise that I would include a book by Agatha Christie, but this one is a mystery with a difference. I was a teenager when I first read this, and there is a little mild romance as well as the mystery in this, but the shining star of this book has to be the historical period. It was the first time I realised that people from ancient history were real people like us, with goals, ambitions, loves and hates. This books made me want to study history.
  5. The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte. This was the first book I read by this author and it remains my favourite. If you enjoy an intellectual challenge, or if you just like mysteries,this is a great read.
  6. If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller by Italo Calvino. I love books that are a bit quirky and unusual, and this one is certainly that. I really enjoyed the premise about a reader whose new book turned out to have the wrong book inside, but also the actual story is a strange, pleasurable little secret just waiting to be discovered. I’ll say no more about that. Just buy it and see.
  7. Red Bones by Ann Cleeves. Ann Cleeves is a great crime writer with an incredible eye for a setting, and a creator of a wide range of characters. This is another story where the events of the past reach forward to wreak havoc in the present. And boy, does this woman put her characters through some stuff.
  8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. A perennial evergreen. For those who dismiss it as early chick-lit, think again. It is subtle, witty and intelligent, and takes the closest look you will ever find at family life. Yes, true it is well-to-do family life. And any woman who could support herself with her writing gets my admiration. This is my favourite book of all time.
  9. One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters. Another historical whodunit, beautifully crafted, intelligent, elegant, and entertaining. I love the very human characters in these books, and although this is the second of the series, I always think of it as the first establishing novel.
  10. Lone Pine Five by Malcolm Saville.  This is a children’s detective series written in the middle part of the twentieth century. It was the natural successor to the less absorbing (for me anyway) and less intelligent Famous Five series, and featured a variety of children and young people who were friends, relatives and who stumbled into mysteries and solved them without too much help or intervention from adults. I wrote to Malcolm Saville when I was about 10 or 11 to tell him how much I enjoyed his books, and he kindly wrote back to me. An integral part of my childhood.
  11. Madam Will You Talk by Mary Stewart. Now mainly remembered for her Arthurian series, Mary Stewart wrote a number of ‘romantic suspense’, mysteries with a strong romantic flavour, and this is my favourite of those. Oh for the days when we could all get away with chapter titles that were taken from quotations from literature! I usually just all mine, ‘chapter one’, ‘chapter two’, etc.
  12. Death In Kashmir by M M Kaye. I do so wish M M had written more than six romantic suspense novels before going on to write what I consider to be ‘literary’ fiction. I don’t much like anything too literary, but as you’ve probably guessed, I LOVE romantic suspense!!! (It’s coming back into vogue, you know.) (At least, it had better be.) I love the settings of Stewart’s books, though sadly often portrayed only through the eyes of the colonial population.
  13. A Double Sorrow by Lavinia Greenlaw. I don’t read a massive amount of poetry, I can’t concentrate long enough for that, but I adored this book which I read in two sittings, each time from cover to cover. The language is beautiful and finally I read the story of Troilus and Cressida!!!
  14. The Lewis Man by Peter May. Superlative novel, I loved this. A story with it feet rooted firmly in the past: history and crime, two of my favourite combinations.
  15. Free To Trade by Michael Ridpath. This book was so, so new and sophisticated when it first came out, and seriously took the publishing world by storm, not least because of the massive advance paid to Ridpath. It was followed by a number of other books set in the financial or business world, and I have really enjoyed them all, but this first one was exceptional.
  16. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. This is a slow moving, beautiful, wistful monument of a work. It unfolds like a flower, capturing your heart. The movie was great, but the book is better. Exquisite. Tissues required.
  17. The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Another intellectual challenge, but it really doesn’t matter if you’ve forgotten all the ancient Greek you learned at school (!!!), this murder mystery will keep you guessing. After reading it for the first time, I felt that Tartt had created a whole new ballgame for crime writers. A modern classic, and should be required reading for all aspiring authors.
  18. Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen by P G Wodehouse. This book should be available on the NHS. So funny, so clever. I really struggled to choose just one Wodehouse book. If you’ve read any of the Jeeves books (of which this is one) maybe try a Blandings one next? I feel Wodehouse makes the writing of humorous fiction look very very easy, when in fact it is extremely clever. Plus, I loved the title.
  19. The Evil Genius by Wilkie Collins. I only started to read Collins about ten years ago or so, I’m rather ashamed to say, and then only because it was a set text on some course or another. But I quickly came to regard his works as great page-turners, and The Evil Genius is my favourite, with it’s Gothic overtones. Who wouldn’t want to be considered an evil genius???
  20. The Listening Eye by Patricia Wentworth. You didn’t really think I’d only choose one Wentworth book, did you? The title of this one is very clever. Wentworth is really in her prime here with this book, which I first read when in my early teens, or maybe a bit younger. I remember raiding my mother’s books for something to read when I ran out of my usual stuff, and she started me on Patricia Wentworth and then, of course, Agatha Christie, both of which became lifelong favourites both in terms of the individual author, and the genre. 

 

What are your favourites?

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