Continuing our campaign to see that everyone receives at least one book as a Christmas present this year (and every year), we have two more ‘Top Five’ recommendations from leading Irish writers. Arlene Hunt has five crime reads that will keep you hooked and guessing with every turn of the page. Ruth Long suggest five fantasy books that will transport you to another world, perfect for when you need a break from your family this Christmas
Arlene Hunt’s Top Five Crime Books
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, by Tom Franklin.
Two boyhood pals in rural Mississippi have their lives torn asunder by secrets and lies. Will history repeat itself now that they are adults? A wonderful gripping novel about guilt and forgiveness in small town America.
Agent 6, by Tom Rob Smith– A claustrophobic thriller, tracing the life of a disillusioned broken-hearted man, from the Cold War Soviet Union to war-torn Afghanistan to a fragile new existence in America. Agent 6 is both a personal tale of love and loss and a damning exposure of political systems where people are used and discarded.
The Burning Soul by John Connolly
An absorbing disturbing detective novel, PI Charlie Parker must investigate the past of they mysterious Randall Haight to discover who is possibly trying to frame him in a missing persons case and why? A thought provoking novel, dealing with secrets and lies and a past that refuses to die.
Little Star- John Ajvide Lindqvist
A chilling novel about a baby discovered partially buried alone in the wood, found by an unconventional man. With little or no interaction with the outside work, the child grows into a young woman, with predictable and terrible consequences for those who cross her path. Little Star is the kind of book that makes you wonder if evil can be inherent or is it created.
Louisiana detective Dave Robicheaux takes on his most harrowing case yet and he tries to find the brutal killer of a number of young women in Jefferson Davis Parish. When his own daughter is threatened Dave is faced with a situation where bloodshed is no longer a choice, but a given.
Arlene Hunt’s latest novel is The Chosen, published by Portnoy Press, and also TV3’s November book of the month. http://www.bordgaisenergybookclub.ie/category/book-of-the-month/?cafe=1
Ruth Long’s Top Five Fantasy Books
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
Yes, I know. Very predictable. But this was the first big fantasy I ever read. And read. And re-read. And re-read. It’s fantasy from the ground up. Tolkien was a philologist (a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics) and started his world based on the languages and the world they came from, the people of the story rather than the story itself. It took 12 years to write. Every time I read this I find something new, something different. It’s not an easy book, and the style doesn’t make it easily accessibly to today’s reader but its worth the effort. The sources Tolkien drew on include numerous mythologies, Beowulf, The Ring Cycle and religion, especially Roman Catholicism. Though it often draws criticism of its treatment of women (unobtainable and perfect, or simply not there), it also gave me Eowyn (who succeeds by matching all her male counterparts do but succeeds where they fail by virtue of being a woman) which as a young girl reading this book was a gift beyond measure.
For me this was a book that changed everything. It was fantasy but in a semblance of our world, and our here and now. I’d been reading the Sandman series, which I adored and still do. (I thought about including it here, but restricted myself to one book per author. Well, kind of). Again, its a recontruction of mythologies, old and new with the inclusion of Americana, that really resonated with me. Coming from a background of traditional quest fantasy, the way this story unfolded, taking what was old and familiar and recreating it into something so bright and new was a revelation.
Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
Trying to pick one Pratchett novel is almost impossible. I love them all. But Night Watch (and Thud!) are for me in a class of thier own. And Nightwatch in particular is a combination of all that makes the others so good. Though these books are fantasy, they are also comedy and highly satirical, holding a mirror up to our world. Even the cover is a parody of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch but with characters familiar from the Discworld, and the plot shamelessly prods fun at stories like Les Miserables. It’s a very moving book, asking sometimes difficult questions about patriotism, identity and the romanticisation of revolution. It’s also laugh out loud funny. Not many books can pull all that together.
(I’m going to pause here to sneak in another book. 2 & 3 (a) if you like. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman wrote Good Omens together. It’s awesome! Combining the skills of two great writers and much of their influences in one, hillarious story of good and evil, angels and demons, and armageddon
Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurtz
Returning to traditional fantasy again and to one of my favourite authors, Raymond E. Feist. Daughter of the Empire is part of his Riftwar series, where a rift is opened between the worlds of Kelewan and Midkemia and war begins, but Daughter also stands apart. It’s set in Kelewan, and the story runs in parallel with the events of the Riftwar (Magician, Silverthorn & Darkness at Sethanon). While the worldbuilding of Midkemia is strongly based on medieval Europe, Kelewan has a powerful Asian influence which comes across in everything, especially its characters. The Daughter of the Empire herself, Mara of the Acoma, is only 17 at the beginning of the story and it charts her struggle at first to survive when her family is wiped out, and to raise her House in the lethal political world governed by The Game of the Council. Her strengths are her intelligence, her growing political instincts and her passion for House and the people she protects. Daughter is followed by Servant of the Empire and Mistress of the Empire, giving us a powerful and enchanting heroine and exploring the questions of power, politics and different aspects of love.
King of Morning, Queen of Day by Ian McDonald
An urban fantasy 1913 and 1990, following a family with a perculiar ability to bring the mythic to life and become entangled in that world. Three women – Emily, her daughter Jessica and grand-daughter Enye – form the centre of this story. Irish mythology and new mythologies dreamed up by the protagonists transform the familiar world to a place of wonder and danger. There are similarities to Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood and I had some difficulty deciding which to include here, but because King of Morning, Queen of Day is a very Irish book, referencing Yeats, Joyce and Beckett along with our myths and legends, I plumped for it, though both are wonderful stories. Again this is a book that sort of shook me away, standing clear of the trilogies of traditional fantasies and heading in another direction entirely.
In a sense that is what all of these books do, taking familiar stories, both modern and ancient, mixes them with legends old and new and making them afresh. Fantasy reflects our world and shows it to us in new ways.
A lifelong fan of fantasy, romance, and ancient mysteries, Ruth Frances Long studied English Literature, History of Religions, and Celtic Civilization in college and now works in a specialized library of rare and unusual books. She lives in County Wicklow, Ireland. The Treachery of Beautiful Things(Dial, 16 August 2012) is her first novel for teens. She writes fantasy for adults as R. F. Long, and her novels The Scroll Thief, Soul Fire and novella collection Songs of the Wolf (The Wolf’s Sister & The Wolf’s Mate) are currently available from Samhain Publishing.
(c) Arlene Hunt and Ruth F. Long, December 2011.
Arlene Hunt’s Top five first appeared in the Irish Independent, November 2011.