jennygordon: (Great Grey Heron)
'Tis that time of year when I like to look back at what I've read over the course of the last twelve months ...

... excuse me while I stick my hands up my jumper for a minute; they're so cold I can barely type!

Right, that's better.

As I was saying, yes, books.

Turns out I've read far fewer books than in previous years. Only 53, six of which were DNFs ("Did Not Finish"). It's no great surprise. Life with a hefty capital "L" has happened this year, and my reading habits have responded accordingly. Also, I note that lots of the books I have read are great big tomes, as opposed to more the more slender volumes I've tended towards in recent years, which also explains the reduction in overall number.

The most surprising book on my list (I keep a hand-written list in a notebook) was one I could barely read the title of, and when I did decipher my scrawl, I didn't recognise the title at all. Weird! I skipped across to my Goodreads page, but it turns out I forgot to list it there. Then, *clang* the memory dropped into place. Mystery solved. The book was ... well, utterly forgetable, so I forgot it!

In previous years, I've tossed down my thoughts on my Top Ten books read in that year. My brain is as cold as my fingers, so I think I'll just mention my three favourites this time:

The Wood Wife, Terri Windling - one of the most magical books I know, and one I return to every few years.

The Burning Air, Erin Kelly - a gripping thriller that swallowed me whole, and had a twist even I didn't see coming.

The Lollipop Shoes, Joanne Harris - a re-read of what is possibly my favourite Harris novel (although I haven't read all of them, so you never know).

Oh, okay, I also have to include Maggie Stiefvater's The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue. The former was a re-read to refresh my memory in advance of the latter, which was a new release this year. I adore Maggie's storytelling, and her characterisation is subtle and flawless. I learn writerly lessons whenever I read anything by her.

Well, that's me. I'm a couple of hundred pages into The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley at the moment. It's a book I haven't read since I was a teenager, and at 1000 pages, it's going to be a while before I'm ready to make progress with my ever-growing 'To Be Read' pile.

What about you? What have been your favourite reads of 2014?
jennygordon: (Skywatcher)
Since it's the time of year for this kind of thing, I took a look back at the books I read during 2013. There were 65 of them, which falls short of my 2012 total of 89, though that was a bit of a fluke, as it's more normal for me to fall around the 60-mark. Of those, I reckon there were a few standouts for me, for a variety of reasons.


  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, NK Jemisin — which reminded me of the fun I used to have with my wild and weird imagination, and inspired this post.
  • How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff — which was a random buy in my local charity shop. I knew nothing about the book or the author, but it turned out to be an unexpected delight. Flukily, a film based on the novel appeared later in the year.
  • Bitterblue, Kristin Cashore — which is the latest novel by one of the best YA fantasy writers currently out there.
  • Seraphina, Rachel Hartman — which was such enormous fun, and left me with the enduring image of dragons living in human form who obsessively sit on piles of books instead of piles of treasure. Well, who wouldn't?!
  • The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss — which was a reimmersion in high fantasy that I thoroughly enjoyed.
  • The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern — which was a sublime dream of a novel for a lover of style and lycicism like me.
  • Sacrificial Magic, and Chasing Magic, Stacia Kane — which are two gritty and original novels in the only urban fantasy series I follow.
  • The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater — which are some of the most stylish and ambitious YA novels currently out there.
  • The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater — which is the fourth (or fifth?) time I've read this standalone novel, and I loved it even more this time around, so it had to appear on this list.
  • Chime, Franny Billingsley — which is written in one of the most engaging first person voices I've come across.

So, that's me. I know some of you have posted your own lists, but what I want to know is which of the books you've read were standouts for you, and why?

jennygordon: (Clock)

‘Tis the season for Top Ten Reads of the past year, but I thought I’d approach mine slightly differently this time. Instead of simply listing my favourite books read in 2012, I’ve put together a list of those books that taught me something, along with what that something was. I don’t like to grumble, so I won’t be including those that taught me how NOT to do something, although there were certainly a goodly few of those too, and the lessons they taught me were equally as valuable.

I try to read as widely as possible, across genres and from Mid-Grade to Adult. That said, the majority of my reading matter this year has focussed on the YA genre, since that’s the genre I write in, so I want to be as informed as I can about the current market. Within that bracket, I’ve read everything from fantasy to contemporary, dystopian SF to paranormal romance; it’s the delicious variety to be found on today’s YA shelves that's one of the things I love about it.

So, without further ado, I give you my list (in no particular order) …

ha ha! I’m such a tease; you’ll have to click here if you want to read on … )

jennygordon: (Roe Deer fawn)

I’m sorry, it’s SUCH a clichéd thing to say, but where has this year gone?! I can’t believe we’re half way through already. Since it’s been so long since I’ve done a Top Ten, I thought it was about time I took a look at my Top Ten favourites of the fifty-some books I’ve read this year so far.

In no particular order:

Patricia McKillip, The Tower at Stony Wood – I know, I’m so predictable, but any McKillip book is always going to make a Top Ten of mine. This one deals with ladies in towers, lost knights who may or may not be seeking them, a selkie, and a dragon or two, all wrapped up in McKillip’s gorgeous, dreamlike prose. What more could you possibly want?

Lucy Christopher, Stolen – a superb YA novel written in second person in the form of a letter by a girl to her captor, the damaged young man who kidnapped her and stole her away to the Australian Outback.

Carrie Ryan, The Dark and Hollow Places – the final novel in Ryan’s dark and delicious ‘zombie’ series that’s so much more than just another zombie series. This one deals with questions of love, loyalty and the nature of humanity (as does the series as a whole, in fact).

Gayle Forman, Where She Went – the heart-wrenching sequel to If I Stay, this follows the story of what happened after Mia came out of the coma resulting from the accident that devastated her life.

Lindsey Barraclough, Long Lankin – a wonderfully British take on a quintessentially dark and nasty British folklore villain.

Ellen Kushner and Holly Black, Welcome to Bordertown – an almost perfect collection of short stories set in the shared Bordertown World created by Terri Windling and a group of authors back in the ‘80s. Much added nostalgia-value!

Lauren Oliver, Before I Fall – the engrossing and moving journey of a ‘nasty-girl’ made good. Sam has to live her final day over and again, all the time learning to be a better person.

Lisa McMann, Wake – what do they say about the best things coming in small packages? This short novel is a poignant tale of outcasts coming to terms with the strangeness of life, in more ways than one.

Leah Cypess, Mistwood – a lyrically-told example of intimate, as opposed to epic fantasy.

Jennifer Donnelly, Revolution – a heartbreakingly broken girl finds refuge and healing in the diary of a teenager who lived through the French Revolution.

So there you have it, for what it’s worth: the books that have ensnared me this half-year. What about you? Which books have grabbed your interest this year so far? I’d love to hear.

jennygordon: (Gargoyle)
Looking back over my list of books read in 2011, I’m astonished to find that I’ll have read something approaching 75 by the end of the year, which beats 2010’s 70. It’s been a very varied reading year for me. I’ve read more widely than I can remember ever doing, covering genres from YA to fantasy, literary fiction to humour, to crime, to mystery and supernatural. There have been re-reads of old favourites, including books by Joanne Harris, Alice Hoffman and Kate Morton, and new authors discovered, most notably Phil Rickman and Brunonia Barry. And I can honestly say that, as a writer, I’ve learned something from every one of them.

Now, when it comes to whittling down a list of my favourite books read (or re-read) this year, it’s not easy, but I’ve mulled it over and come up with one. In no particular order:


  1. Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races: a thrilling and enthralling stand-alone novel that I’ve learned so many writerly lessons from that I blogged about them here.



  1. Anne McCaffrey, Dragonsong: a re-read following the news of Anne’s death. This was the first of her novels that I read as a sprog, and revisiting it as an adult, a part of me viscerally recalls the emotions 14-year-old me felt on first reading.



  1. Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall: a literary reassessment of the much maligned Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VII’s chief minister, this meaty, but eminently accessible novel is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.



  1. Phil Rickman, Midwinter of the Spirit: I could list any number of Rickman novels here, but this was the first of his that I discovered. Compulsive reading, he combines mystery with wonderful characterisation, all sorts of social issues with a smattering of the supernatural in an utterly addictive manner.



  1. Joanne Harris, Gentlemen and Players: wonderful characters, dark and dastardly deeds, and a twist I never saw coming (and I usually do!) This was a re-read, really added to by the fact that, this time, I knew what the twist was.



  1. Brunonia Barry, The Lace Reader: the kind of novel that sticks with you long after reading, this is a story of family and healing, with an added sprinkle of magic in the form of divination by lace reading.



  1. Patricia McKillip, Something Rich and Strange: this is a book I’ve read many, many times. A eulogy to the sea and the magic of the sea, and a poignant plea to humankind to treat the oceans of our world with more kindness, this is a treasure of a novel, complete with Brian Froud’s wonderful illustrations.



  1. Christopher Moore, Lamb: a gloriously funny story of Christ (or Josh, as he is more accurately known), as told by his best friend, Biff. It’s rare for a book to make me laugh out loud, but this one did!



  1. Melissa Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: I’m famously hype-resistant, but when I picked this up in a charity shop, its honesty, wisdom and humour have made it a book I’ll read over and again.



  1. Alice Hoffman, Here on Earth: another re-read, this is a modern-day riff on “Wuthering Heights” set in New England, and is as torrid and passionate as its inspiration. Hoffman’s magical realist novels are gems that rarely fail to delight.


So, that’s me. How about you? What have been your favourites among the books you’ve read this year?
jennygordon: (Bluebells)
The other day, I was chatting to my local Crystal Man about all the amazing places he visits in his quest for crystals and fossils and all things sparkly to sell on his market stall. He travels the world, attending the massive US gem fairs, as well as visiting tiny mines where he buys direct from the local miners. Now, I don’t have the travel-itch that some do, but I love hearing about the incredible places other people have visited, as well as going on adventures of my own inside my head. Which is wonderful, because it means I’m restricted neither by money, nor the borders of reality. I thought I’d throw together a Top Ten of the places I’d love to visit (real and imaginary). In no particular order:

1. Venice, Italy"You never see Venice for the first time: she is already floating inside you."  Lovric, Carnivale. I visited for 4 days in the depths of winter with the buildings emerging from the freezing fog, then vanishing again. Like a dream.
2. Alhambra, Spain – an exquisite confection of a palace, and a poignant survivor of the once-great Moorish kingdoms that once dominated the Mediterranean.
3. Midwinter Masque at the Night Court, City of Elua – the fabulous Midwinter celebration held in the capital city of Terre d’Ange of Jacqueline Carey’s novels. Gorgeous fancy dress is worn, joie is drunk (a rare liqueur distilled from mountain flowers), and at the stroke of midnight, members of the Night Court enact the death of the Winter Hag and the re-birth of the Spring Maiden.
4. The Northern Lights – seen from wherever in the northern hemisphere you go to see them at their best.
5. The Faraway Tree – the vast tree of Enid Blyton’s “Faraway Tree” books; so tall that a ladder amidst its highest boughs reaches into the myriad worlds cycling above. But be careful: stay too long and the world will move on, trapping you in it until it reaches the Faraway Tree again!
6. Petra, Jordan – the city carved out of sheer, rose-red sandstone, hidden within a basin in the mountains. It is famous for The Treasury, yet this is only one of countless rock-cut buildings and tombs.
7. The Wildwood – the British woodlands of our Mesolithic ancestors, before the Neolithic folks began cutting down the trees to begin farming the land. Filled with wolves, bear and boar; the heartwood of our native mythology.
8. Rivendell – It’s always been my favourite Tolkien location, perfectly imagined by Alan Lee in his illustrations, and later in Peter Jackson’s films.
9. Water caches, Arrakis – in our own world where water is an increasingly precious resource, just imagine the wonder of the vast, hidden caches of water deep beneath the deserts of Arrakis in Frank Herbert’s “Dune” novels.
10. Topkapi Palace, Istanbul – primary residence of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years, glittering with treasure and architectural wonder, dense with stories.

So there you have it: ten of the places I’d most like to visit before teatime. There are so many more, but these were the first that sprang to mind, so I’m sticking with them.

How about you? Where in this world, or any other, would you love to visit? Where have you already been that you think everyone should experience? What is it about those places that makes them special?
jennygordon: (Hermit)

I thought it was high time I put together another Top Ten *crowd goes wild*.  Yes, yes, calm down.  Living in the UK, you don’t have to travel very far to get to a castle – the country is chicken-poxed with them, and I’ve been lucky enough to live in some parts of it with the best castles.  They fired my imagination as a kid, and as a slightly bigger kid, I still love exploring an old ruin, or a Victorian Gothic fantasy castle.  Some of my favourites, in no particular order, are:

 

1.      Dover Castle – I spent my teenage years in and out of this place (usually the parts you weren’t supposed to go) and there are so many of my memories in its stones that it has to appear on this list.  Besides, it really is the best preserved of all castles.

2.      Tintagel Castle – wild and rugged ruin on its headland, riddled with myth and fascinating history, with a cave in the cove beneath that you can only access at low tide, this is a dream of a castle.

3.      Dolbadarn Castle – a humble place, guarding the Llanberis pass in the mountains of North Wales, this one’s a little gem.  Look, see ...




4.      Bodelwyddan Castle – another North Welsh castle on the side of a tree-clad hill, it’s one of the places where the National Gallery’s treasures were housed in secret during the Second World War.

5.      Castell Dinas Bran – clinging to the mountainside above Llangollen, it’s a place that holds a wild beauty beyond belief.

6.      Cardiff Castle – transformed in the Victorian era by the wonderful William Burges and the Marquis of Bute’s pots of cash into a fantasy castle, I defy anyone not to be inspired by a visit.

7.      Castell Coch – another Burges/Bute creation, this is a true fairytale castle.

8.      Caernarfon Castle – one of Edward I’s massive fortifications built as part of his brutal quest to subdue the Welsh, this is where I discovered I’m no longer as fearless as I once was!

9.      Nottingham Castle – not a stand-out castle in itself, but I’m still fond of it because it’s the home of a little-known Rossetti painting, Marigolds, or The Gardener’s Daughter.  It’s also the place where King Charles I raised his standard in 1642, commencing the English Civil War.

10.  Krak des Chavalier – the Crusader castle in Syria, I’ve never been there, but it’s fired my imagination since I first saw a picture of it as a small child.

 

So there you have it.  With so many castles to choose from, it’s almost impossible to shortlist, and I’d love to hear if you have any recommendations.  There really is nothing like a good castle for getting your imagination whirring and turning you into a kid again.

jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)
Lists, lists, lists.  Lists for Santa.  Lists for shopping.  Lists of cards and presents.  Not to mention all those 'Best of ...' lists.  Well, I thought I'd have a bash at one too.  Mine is a list of the best books I've read in 2010, rather than books actually published this year.  My criteria for the books that made it to this list, broadly speaking, are that the book needs to have stuck with me for one reason or another.  It might be for its plotting, voice, characterisation, world-building, mood or craft, but it needs to have made an impact in some way.  Doing a rough count, I've actually read almost 70 books so far this year, which is something of a record for me, so there's plenty to choose from.  Back in June, I did a list of my Top Ten Books of 2010 (So Far), and it's interesting to see that only 2 from that list have made it onto this final one.  So anyway, without further ado, I give you my Top Ten of 2010 (in no particular order):

1. Maggie Stiefvater, Ballad.  I chose Shiver for my previous Top Ten, and Maggie definitely deserves a place on this list for being one of the authors who has opened my eyes to all the wonderful things currently happening in YA fiction.  But on balance, I'm going to pick Ballad as my favourite.  Two reasons:  firstly, it features a Leanan Sidhe, an obscure faerie creature who has inspired 2 books of my own, and secondly for James, her utterly engaging VP character.

2. Carrie Ryan, The Forest of Hands and Teeth. This dystopian YA fantasy is the first of the 2 that featured on my earlier list, and though I read it back at the beginning of the year, I find that her bleak and powerfully imagined future (bravely strong stuff for a YA book) has stuck with me.

3. Francesca Lia Block, Psyche in a Dress. The second of those books to make this list as well as the first one, this book has stuck with me in the way that a dream lingers; more an impression of something wonderful than a tangible memory that you could explain to someone else.

4. Patricia McKillip, The Bell at Sealey Head. The latest of McKillip's exquisite fairytales, this one features an inn-keeper's son, ravens, ensorcelled knights, a curse and a wood-witch and her daughter, who is the maid in a house with its feet in two worlds.

5. Stacia Kane, City of Ghosts. The last in Kane's suberb urban fantasy trilogy, The Downside Ghosts, I loved all three for their world-building (a future in which the spirits of the dead have returned to Earth and really aren't very pleasant at all), but also for her inspired characterisation.  The series features Chess, a ghost-hunter with a serious drug problem (her uppers and downers get her through the day), who falls for the least likely of men.

And if that's piqued your fancy, you can read more under the cut ... )
jennygordon: (Angel)
I adore me a grand old house, and being in a Gothic frame of mind of late, I've found myself thinking about stately homes, haunted houses and secret-drenched manors that I've known and loved - and I'm talking here about those both literary and real, not to mention those somewhere in-between.

Living in the UK, I'm spoiled for grand piles, since the country is littered with them, albeit not half so littered as it once was.  I was lucky enough as a child to be introduced to the delights of National Trust properties (where they always put a dried teasel head on antique chairs to prevent the visiting public from sitting on them) - family holidays weren't complete without a visit to at least one.  Those places fed my imagination, not to mention my passion for history, and in novels and films I discovered tales of mad wives locked in attics of ancestral homes, mysteries and age-old secrets whispered behind tapestries, stories of a time and a world gone by, yet one that still lingers in our hearts, fueling our passion to save those stately homes from decay and destruction and to create new stories inspired by them.

The following is only a starting point.  There are so many glorious grand houses; so many wonderful literary creations.  So without further ado,  and in no particular order, I give you a list of some of my favourites
(well, it's about time I did another list):

And it's hiding under here ... )
jennygordon: (Tortoiseshell butterfly 2)
I love books, me.  Always have.  Love the feel of them, the smell of them and a lot of the time what they contain too.  Plus, having loads of books in the house is great for insulation - or so I always say.  Anyway, I've been thinking about books that helped to shape my imagination when I was a sproglet (between 6 and 12, I guess), and since I also love me my lists, I thought I'd share the first ten that came to mind.  So, in no particular order:

1.
Diana Wynne Jones, Charmed Life  - the first of her books I read, and still my favourite.  See here for more.
2. Monica Hughes, Keeper of the Isis Light - for a time, I was obsessed with this book and its lonely heroine.  For plot summary, see here.
3. Beverley Nichols, The Tree that Sat Down (plus prequel and sequels) - magic and adventure in rural England.  Google tells me Nichols was also a gay icon - who knew?
4. Lynne Reid Banks, The Farthest Away Mountain - a brave girl on a lone quest encounters talking gargoyles and patches of magical coloured snow (the green stuff turns to caterpillars when you stand in it).  What's not to love?
5. Tanith Lee, The Castle of Dark - prolific author of much weirdness for children and adults both.  This was the first of her books I read, and I've been inhaling them ever since.
6. Meredith Ann Pierce, The Darkangel - vampires on the moon.  Seriously.  Check it out, it's like a bizarre kind of dream.
7. Richard Bamberger, My Second Big Story-Book - my introduction to the dark side of fairytales (Snow White's wicked stepmother has to don red hot iron slippers at the wedding and dance until she falls down dead).  Good healthy stuff for kids of all ages.
8. Susan Cooper, The Dark is Rising - oh, The Dark is Rising sequence, how many ways do I love thee?  This is book 2 of 5 in a classic and wonderful series I still re-read on a regular basis.
9. Roger Eldridge, The Shadow of the Gloom-World - everyone lives underground, but Fernfeather isn't happy about it, so sets out to discover why.  Something about this book really haunted me.
10. Lionel Davidson, Under Plum Lake - okay, so this guy did a lot of drugs in the '70s.  A strange, dreamlike book that has a lasting impact (just like the drugs, I imagine).  And I'm not the only one who thinks so - the review from cassiope says it all.

The more I thought about it, the more books I came up with.  There was Helen Cresswell and her time-skip ghosty books, Jenny Nimmo and her use of Welsh folklore, Enid Blyton (especially the Faraway Tree books), but these were the first ten I thought of, so I'm going to stick with them. 

Hmm.  Just reading the list through again makes me realise how formative the books were in my own writerly inclinations.  How about you?  Which books did you love as a kid?  And for the writers out there, which ones were responsible for the twisted avenues of your imagination?

Also, if anyone comes across a copy of The Shadow of the Gloomworld, I'll love you forever if you send it to me.


jennygordon: (Naiad)
I promised a writing/book type post today, and here it is.  Since we've just hit the mid-point of the year, I thought I'd share a Top 10 of my favourite books read in 2010 to date.

As you can tell, I've been inhaling mainly Young Adult fiction by the dozen, and wow! there are some truly wonderful books out there.  If 'Young Adult' is a section of the bookshop you normally by-pass, then DON'T!  Hopefully some of the below will persuade you to stop by ...



  1. Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why.  There are thirteen reasons why Clay Jensen's friend died.  He is one of them.  A deeply moving, and ultimately uplifting book about the damage that misconceptions and rumours can do.

  2. Annette Curtis Klause, Blood and Chocolate.  Werewolves done with sexy joi-de-vivre, the story told from the point of view of Vivian, a 16-year-old werewolf who falls for a human.

  3. Jennifer Donnelly, A Gathering Light.  A rich and moving coming-of-age tale set in turn of the century frontier America.  The historical setting (a period I knew nothing about) is as beautifully conveyed as the characters.

  4. Diana Wynne Jones, Charmed Life.  Wonderful, funny and inventive classic tale about witches and warlocks and a charmingly vague enchanter known as Chrestomanci.

  5. Suzanne LaFleur, Love, Aubrey.  When 11-year-old Aubrey was left on her own, it was fun at first - nothing to think about but TV and cheese.  But Aubrey must face the truth of her abandonment and walk a difficult path to acceptance of her mother's failings.  Moving and funny without ever being mawkish.

  6. Francesca Lia Block, Psyche in a Dress.  An adult book this, despite its slender 116 pages.  More of a prose poem than a novel, Lia Block's books are profound and brilliant in their use of mythical symbolism to comment on the ills of modern life.

  7. Melina Marchetta, Saving Francesca.  When Frankie's mother falls ill, her family falls apart.  But Frankie finds friendship and and support in unlikely places, and least expected of all, she falls in love.  Set amongst Australia's multi-cultural suburbs, this is a funny and beautifully told book.

  8. Carrie Ryan, The Forest of Hands and Teeth.  A bleak and terrifying vision of the future in which small pockets of humanity hold out against The Unconsecreted (zombies done more poignantly than you'd think possible).  The atmosphere and the characters linger long after you read the last page.

  9. Maggie Stiefvater, Shiver.  A werewolf love story that's as far away from the cliche as you can imagine.  Poignant and moving, it's the sort of book you need to devote a long Sunday afternoon to reading, because once you start, you won't want to stop.

  10. Mari Strachan, The Earth Hums in B Flat.  Only the second adult novel on my list, and one that achieves the very difficult task of telling a story for grown-ups through a child's point of view.  A darkly humourous tale of growing up in 1950s rural Wales.

So that's my lot.  The best of the books I've read so far this year.  I was going to stick Amazon links in, but you're all clever people, right?  I hope you might be interested enough in some of these to look them up.

And now over to you.  I'd love to hear some of your recommendations.  What have you been reading this year?  What makes it onto your Top 10?  All comers, all genres welcome ...

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