Five Favourite Fiction Reads

I recall stumbling across Chalk the Sun and reading many of the posts, Julie had read many books I loved and many more that I aspired to read. The first review I read there was The Buddha in the Attic, the first time I had heard of both the book and its author Julie Otsuka. Since then, I have been an avid follower of Chalk the Sun. Not only is Julie a talented, observant, evocative writer and reader, she is working on her own book set in France, which many of us are waiting to read!

Photo0650Julie tagged me in the Five Favourite Reads challenge, a near impossible task, so I will share 5 favourites that come to mind spontaneously.

Kimberly, a Bostonian writer living in Rome, also nominated me in the Happy Booker Alternative Book Award and since she’s stretched the rules to choose outside the 2012-2013 year, I’m going to combine these two awards and exercise freedom in choosing.

Whenever I visit Kimberly’s blog, she’s either reading, visiting a European city (known to be inspired to write a short story as a result), winning prizes for those excellent short stories, or planning to go to the Women’s Fiction Festival in Matera, Italy. This is a blog to linger in and be inspired by.

Thanks also to writer Deborah Brasket of Living on the Edge of the World for nominating this blog for the Inspiring blog Award and to Red Headed Stitcher who has nominated me in the past for the Sisterhood of Bloggers award and more recently the Liebster Award. I’m not too good at participating in awards, but thank you to all those who passed them on to me, I appreciate every gesture.

First, five out of too many bloggers whose posts I look forward to reading, whose exchanges I appreciate and whose favourite books I’d love to know (no obligation though):

Five Great Blogs

ReadEng Didi’s Press – lives and works in the north of France, loves books and the English language, sound familiar?

Three Hundred Sixty Five – it’s an ambitious challenge guaranteed to improve your writing skills and Fransi is doing it, I’m reading it in awe.

JoV’s Book Pyramid – reading around the world, across genre, an eclectic collection of book gems to be found here.

PB Writes – poet, writer doing the NaMeSitDifStarDaiWri(expletive)Po check her out and be inspired, I was, I wrote 2 poems this week, first in 2 years!

Books Can Save a Life – thoughts on books and how they make us who we are, with an emphasis on the personally meaningful.

My Five Great Fiction Reads

010413_1256_TheIndustry1.jpgThe Industry of Souls, Martin Booth My first read on 2013 was a reread one of my all-time favourite books and one that has stayed with me over the years and stood the test of time. He wrote one other novel Islands of Silence which I also loved and a memoir which I have still to read, Gweilo: Memories Of A Hong Kong Childhood. Sadly, he died in 2004 just after finishing this memoir. My recent review here.

Astonishing GodsAstonishing the Gods, Ben Okri This was a real favourite from my twenties, when life was full of indecision and anything was possible. I love a good fable and this small volume was a surprise read after struggling through Okri’s more infamous, head spinning work The Famished Road.

Birds Without WingsBirds Without Wings, Louis de Bernières When this book was published Loius de Bernières had not published a book for 10 years, so it arrived amidst significant intrigue. He is something of a hit or miss author, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was a word of mouth sensation, even if was a struggle to get into, however this is his masterpiece. Birds without Wings is a book to read slowly and savour each word, each character, each facet of that tragic and bitter struggle between the Greeks and the Turks during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Epic and profoundly humane.

HummingbirdHummingbird, James George In 2006, three New Zealand writer’s, Elisabeth Knox, James George and Vincent O’Sullivan visited Aix-en-Provence and I listened to them read. I had read Knox’s Vintner’s Luck, I knew of Vincent O’Sullivan’s work, but wasn’t familiar with James George. He read from his book Hummingbird and I was entranced. Just those few pages and I knew it was a book I had to read.

Three strangers arrive at a camping ground on a part of the barren, isolated Ninety Mile Beach. They are a former prostitute, a young man just released from prison, and a retired Cambridge don, former Battle of Britain pilot and veteran of the Battle of Crete. Slowly we learn their stories as the author examines their past, lost souls who find solace in this endless sea, sand and sky. It is an incredibly moving, lyrical work from a little known but exceptionally talented writer and poet.

all the pretty horsesAll the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy I picked this up in the library, not realising it was the first in The Border Trilogy, and what a thrill it was to discover that McCarthy, though bleak in his subject writes such pure, lyrical prose.

This coming of age novel and it’s sequel The Crossing are something of the best a book can offer someone like me, a great story, exceptional visual writing, inspiring awe. It’s like unlocking another door to that mystery of what makes us tick, it remains something of a mystery true, but I know that Cormac McCarthy’s way of expressing and describing in words is one of my keys.

So, what are the first books that spontaneously come to mind as your favourites?

31 thoughts on “Five Favourite Fiction Reads

  1. Five (non-classic) favorites that seem to work for many kinds of readers are The Alienist by Caleb Carr (a crime/detective story set in late-1800s New York), The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, The Eight by Katherine Neville (a proto-DaVinci Code conspiracy book that alternates b/w the time of the French Revolution and Algeria in the 1970s), 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher (a great YA, especially if you like mysteries), and Welcome to Temptation (well-written, contemporary romance).


  2. Claire,

    Here are my five favorite reads:

    1) David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. My favorite Dickens novel and has written it was his own favorite as well. An excellent coming of age story and unforgettable.

    2) Home Is The Sailor by Jorge Amado: Amado was considered Brazil’s greatest modern novelist and this novel deals with the country’s social status, social climbing, and harmful effects of gossip in an humorous and exotic way.

    3) The Testament by John Grisham: I have never read a John Grisham novel before The Testament. This novel is more than a typical legal thriller. It deals with the power of redemption and how extreme wealth can ruin a family.

    4) Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin: I believe Mark Helprin is the most underrated great American novelist we have writing today. Winter’s Tale is a beautifully written novel that deals with love and loss, fantasy and reality, and New York City at the turn of the 20th century. Helprin is one of the few modern writers that understand fiction can be fantastical and moral not have a postmodern cynicism about what it means to be human.

    5) The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell: I just recently read it last year and reviewed for my blog. The Sparrow is one of the best novels I’ve read in the past several years. The story of a Jesuit Priest be sent on a first contact mission to an alien planet and the ramifications of that decision. The priest’s Catholicism was tested unlike anything I’ve read in modern fiction with a religious theme.

    Those are my fav five.



    • Thanks for the list, David Copperfield is on my list to read this year, particularly given Dickens abandoned his attempt to write an autobiography, instead it is said, much of it comes out in this book, he felt more free to write fiction than directly about himself, I know that feeling, it’s analogous to looking forward rather than looking back!

      Love it when a foreign author makes the list, I definitely wish to read more translated fiction going forward and I follow the blog Winston’s Dad for excellent recommendations, it’s brilliant, you might want to check it out if you are interested in international translated fiction.

      Thanks for sharing your five, they all sound like excellent reads.


  3. Thanks for mentioning me as one of your 5 favourite blogs. I’m really flattered. I was just thinking about my 5 favourite books and that isn’t so easy. Give me some time to think about that one. Mmmm….


  4. Wonderful post, Claire! I liked your description of JoV’s blog as an eclectic collection of book gems – so beautifully put and with which I totally agree. I want to read Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All the Pretty Horses’ now!


  5. Even before I glance over at my shelves to see what jumps out, two books pop into my head: ‘The Time of Our Singing,’ by Richard Powers, and ‘Stones from the River,’ by Ursula Hegi. Then there’s ‘To the End of the Land,’ by David Grossman and ‘In Case We’re Separated,’ by Alice Mattison. Last, and hardly least, ‘The Little Disturbances of Man,’ by Grace Paley. Re: your recommendations, I’d be hard put not to admit being captivated by ‘The Famished Road’ (Ben Okri) and ‘Corelli’s Mandolin’ (Louis de Berniere). And now I have a few more blogs to check out. Thank you.


    • I have The Little Disturbances of Man on my shelf, but being a short story collection, it’s one of those I dip into now and then, never wanting to finish!

      I do hope you will check out Astonishing the Gods and Birds without Wings 🙂


  6. Interesting picks, Claire! I look forward to adding to my summer list. Thanks for the ‘Birds without Wings’ suggestion. I know lots of people raved about ‘Çaptain Corelli’, but it’s one of the few books I just gave up on and put down for good. Nice to see I should try again, perhaps with this, especially since the subject matter would appeal to me. Great suggestions!


  7. I am so humbled and honored by your wonderful words, Claire – thank you!
    I found this a nearly impossible challenge, as well, but I loved the critical and creative thinking it inspired as I considered which reads resonated deeply.

    The other aspect I loved about passing along this challenge is the opportunity to discover new writers and their blogs, and new and wonderful books. Each that you listed is either completely new to me (the blogs) or books I have heard of but not yet explored. What a joy to know there are worlds yet to be explored.

    I treasure your blog, your writing and your critiques.



    • It is good to sit back and ask that question and to wonder why some reads really do stay with us, I was curious this year to know whether it was just a stage of life or something that endured as I feel sure some belong in each of those categories.

      I also think <The Snow Child is one of those novels that will stay with me and will endure, I didn’t mention it since it is still recent, but I already know that it is one of this collection for me. These books for me are often found by chance and I still unlocking their mystery, what it is that is resonating 🙂 Such is the allure of books, stories, writing and now recognising it in others through blogs, what a gift we have stumbled upon, to be able to add value to that private reading experience in such a way, connecting with others.


  8. Gosh Claire, I am honoured. Thanks for putting me up there on your top 5, it means a lot to me, coming from you. I have come to see your blog as a nourishment to soul. Every one of your review is so sensitive and beautiful. It lifts me up! Hugs. 🙂


  9. I am always a sucker for a list and thinking about my five favorite books of fiction I suppose it is best to respond with contemporary titles since a list which included Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, Ulysses, Tristram Shandy, or Recherche would be too obvious and therefore not very useful. So what are my top five fictions? Thinking quickly, and in no particular order, I can suggest Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano, William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Le voyeur, Georges Perec’s La Vie mode d’emploi, and The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz.


    • Great list! Thanks for sharing, I almost included Madame Bovary, my all time favourite classic and The Idiot not far behind, but decided to stick to relatively recent contemporary. Mahfouz is the only one on your list I have read. Top of mind is good, will be checking these out.


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